Harvard Graduate School of Education | Project Zero

The Interdisciplinary and Global Studies Project

Visit the Interdisciplinary Studies website here.

Some questions simply cannot be addressed through a single discipline. Decisive shifts in knowledge production characterize the turn of the twenty-first century. Collaborations by medical doctors, engineers, computer scientists, and molecular biologists are revolutionizing medical care through new, minimally invasive surgical technologies. Pressing social issues from poverty to climate change and global health challenge scientists, historians, psychologists, and artists to converge on solutions that transcend single-disciplinary perspectives. Interdisciplinary understanding (i.e., the ability to integrate knowledge from two or more disciplines to create products, solve problems, or produce explanations) is a hallmark of contemporary problem-solving and discovery—and a primary requirement for relevant education today.

The Interdisciplinary Studies Project examines the challenges and opportunities of interdisciplinary work carried out by researchers, college faculty, secondary school teachers, and students in a variety of research and educational contexts. We work on a novice-expert paradigm: Building on an empirical understanding of the cognitive, social, emotional, and institutional dimensions of interdisciplinary work among experts working in exemplary institutions, our project develops frameworks and practical tools to understand interdisciplinary student learning and guide quality interdisciplinary education. For example, a recent study of expert research collaborations (e.g., MacArthur research networks) enabled us to advance a comprehensive theory of conditions for successful interdisciplinary collaborations: Shared Socio-Emotional-Cognitive Platforms [SSEC]. Our work on exemplary collegiate and pre-collegiate instruction yielded a pedagogical framework for quality interdisciplinary teaching and an assessment system uniquely tailored to gauge and support interdisciplinary work. This research is currently central to the interdisciplinary education innovations within the International Baccalaureate.  

In recent years, we have focused on quality interdisciplinary education as a means to nurture global competence or global consciousness – i.e., an individuals’ capacity and disposition to understand and act on matters of global significance. In what follows we describe our foundational studies in interdisciplinarity and then turn to our current work in global education. For example, in collaboration with the International Baccalaureate, our recent study of student-led interdisciplinary research on matters of global and local significance enabled us to identify learning challenges unique to interdisciplinary work and track global consciousness among students in Kenya, India and the USA. The student-led interdisciplinary research process that we developed-the World Studies Extended Essay- is available to IB students world-wide.

In collaboration with the Asia Society and the Council of Chief State School Officers, we worked with curriculum officers and experts nationwide to define global competence and create a framework for its inclusion in State curricula. The definition builds on and expands our conceptions of global consciousness and highlights the key role of disciplinary and interdisciplinary student work. The resulting publication, Educating for Global Competence: Preparing Students to Engage the World (Boix Mansilla Jackson 2011) can be downloaded for free at http://www.edsteps.org/CCSSO/SampleWorks/EducatingforGlobalCompetence.pdf

In collaboration with the Asia Society, this project examines the relationship between educational experiences and global leadership among established leaders in three fields (financing, technology, and social entrepreneurship) in the United States, China and India. We seek to advance an empirically informed definition of global leadership and the competencies involved, and characterize the educational experience that individuals view as key in their life-long development.

In collaboration with the Portland Public Schools this project seeks to prepare students for engaged and informed global citizenship. Through a series of seminars, school rounds, and the development of a novel digital environment, our group works closely with leaders and teachers to advance quality K-12 teaching for global competence within and across disciplines. Through partnerships with community organizations and working closely with school teachers and leaders, we are designing a series of global competence-centered milestone learning experiences to mark the end of elementary, secondary and high school education.

A hub for immigrant and refugee families, Portland offers a unique context for empirical research. Through this project, we seek to advance a longitudinal understanding of teachers’ developing capacity to teach for global competence within and across disciplines. We study key markers and demands of quality pedagogical content knowledge in global education. We seek to illuminate the conditions that enable the creation of cultures of global competence in classrooms and schools. We also investigate the learning demands that global competence presents to students over time.

Funding: The Atlantic Philanthropies, International Baccalaureate, International School of Uganda, Canadian Institute for Advanced Research, Asia Society, Nellie Mae-Portland Public Schools

Project Staff:
    Veronica Boix-Mansilla, PI
    Sameera Anwar
    Flossie Chua
    Aman Dang
    Chelsea Delorme
    Liz Dawes Duraisingh
    Michael Holland
    Analia Ivanier
    Mara Krechevsky
    Polina Mischenko
    Arzu Mistry
    Melissa Rivard
    Kyoko Sato
    Kana Shiota