Transdisciplinary Orientation to Responsible Living Curricula (2012)

Transdisciplinary Orientation to
Responsible Living Curricula
Sue L. T. McGregor PhD Professor
Mount Saint Vincent University, Halifax NS
Paper presented at the 2012 Partnership for
Education and Research for Responsible
Living (PERL) conference, Berlin, Germany
Track 3 - What orientations to learning
and knowing can teachers hold when
designing responsible living curricula?
• A consumer culture cannot change
unless consumer pedagogies
• Switching to a responsible living
curriculum is one such change.
• Switching to a transdisciplinary
orientation is another change.
Features of responsible living curricula
(Thuente, 1993)
• Helps students integrate what they learn into their daily
• Develops their consciousness and self-control
• Fosters prosocial behaviour (voluntary behaviour
intended to benefit others)
• Sensitizes them to interconnectedness and to
• Creates spaces so attitudes and dispositions towards
responsible choices can be nurtured
• Teaches them to be able to see opportunities and to deal
confidently with uncertainty and change
• Integrates concepts from a variety of subject areas
around themes focused on contemporary issues facing
students (wicked problems facing humanity)
Four large ideas for how to bring a
transdisciplinary orientation to
responsible living curricula:
Knowledge Creation
(wicked problems)
Habits of Mind
Orientation to
Responsible Living
Learning Approach
(learning cycle and four
pillars of learning)
• This paper focuses on
how educators’
appreciation for what
counts as learning and
knowing might change if
they embrace a
orientation in their
pedagogy and course
Elements of a TD orientation
(wicked problems)
Habits of Mind
Orientation to
Responsible Living
Learning Approach
(learning cycle and
four pillars of learning)
Transdisciplinary KNOWLEDGE
• Transdisciplinary knowledge is created by moving
beyond the integration of knowledge from many
disciplines towards linking that integrated
knowledge with local and traditional knowledge
• In a transintellectual space, a gradual crossfertilization of different ideas, perspectives and
value systems occurs while solving complex,
emergent problems of humanity (far beyond the
traditional curriculum content for individual subject
areas, which are disciplinary-based)
TD knowledge con’t
• The creation of TD knowledge
inherently entails selftransformation leading to new
knowledge of oneself and of
the art of living responsibly
with others.
• This knowledge is co-created
with others who are living the
problems and becomes
This is very different from static knowledge
embodied (belongs to
created by different disciplines
• It is alive (does not stand still)
because the problems being
solved are alive and changing.
TD knowledge is integrated:
• This means people creating the
knowledge open up to all those
involved so something new can be
created via synthesis and the
harmonization of ideas and
perspectives. Synthesis means
creating a new whole by combining
separate things in ways that had not
been done before. People self(re)organize during perspective
sharing and solution development.
• This type of knowledge is especially
needed when solving wicked
Shift curricula foci to wicked problems
• E.g., climate change, poverty, over-population,
• Knowledge about the problem is uncertain
• The nature of the problem is disputed by multiple actors;
depends on who is asked
• Great deal is at stake
• All have human relationships and social interactions at
their core
• Different notions of what constitutes an acceptable
solution (no evident solution)
• Fixing one wicked problem often creates another one
• Aspects of a wicked problem may be symptoms of other
wicked problems
Transdisciplinary 7 Habits of Minds
(Mishra, Koehler & Henriksen, 2011)
• People need to learn seven TD habits of mind in
order to solve complex, wicked problems:
1. Perceiving
2. Patterning
3. Abstracting
4. Embodied thinking
5. Modelling
6. Play
7. synthesizing
7 TD habits of mind
4. Learn to know the world
around them by thinking with
their body and then learn
1. Use all five senses and then
empathy (embodied
call to mind what they have
observed without external
5. Build replicas or use theories or
aids (perceiving and
models to represent and then
study something (modelling,
2. Learn to see repeating forms
includes abstraction)
in seemingly arbitrary
arrangements (recognize 6. Open doors to new ways of
thinking and seeing by
intellectually playing with
3. Focus on one feature of
ideas, concepts, boundaries
something and then explain
and processes (deep playing)
the abstraction using
analogies (abstracting) 7. Synthesizing
Transdisciplinary Learning
• All about merging different
perspectives to problem solve.
• TD learning cannot happen unless
boundaries are broken down or
transcended and people have room to
cross back and forth, in and out, over
and under, through each other’s
perspectives and positions.
• This iterative border work helps
people appreciate that their ideas
can contribute to solving the
• TD learning happens in spaces
created to allow perspectives to
change or to be viewed from different
angles than originally presented.
Transdisciplinary Learning APPROACH
leading to convergence of mindsets
• Three stage learning cycle, with the cycle having
no set beginning or end:
▫ Each person comes to the TD learning table with
their own contributions to the solution of the
complex problem (normative interpretations)
▫ They each pose actions ,which will have a series of
(un)expected effects (creative)
▫ Each person at the TD learning table grapples with
all contributions, with the possibility that
perspectives can shift, merge or lead to the creation
of new TD knowledge (observation)
Muller, Tjallingi and Canters 2005
Intent of transdisciplinary learning
• People can “effectively communicate
across disciplines and sectors, value
other’s expertise and knowledge, establish
necessary relationships, ask important
questions, integrate shared learning, and
grow in self-confidence while successfully
working [and learning] with others”
(Schmitt, 2007, p.1)
Final note – four pillars of education
• TD learning experiences that help consumers to look
beyond consumption must reorient learners to what
it means to learn, moving beyond learning facts and
information to learning how to know, to do, to be
with, and to be (the four pillars of education)
(Delros 1999; Nicolescu 1997).
• Marinova and McGrath (2004) envision
these four pillars as fundamental to a
transdisciplinary pedagogy for responsible
Delros, 1999
Four pillars of learning
• Learning to KNOW –
• Learning to BE WITH
train students to
OTHERS – foster a
permanently question
predisposition to create spaces
assumptions and to build
for both open unity and
bridges leading to
complex plurality, for
continually connected
defending one’s own
convictions while respecting
• Learning to DO –
authentically weave
• Learning to BE – discover
together competencies to
how previous learnings have
create a flexible, inner
conditioned them and then
personal core (always an
continually test the foundations
apprentice to creativity and of their convictions – always
one’s potential)
ask questions
T-Shaped learner – TD literate
• Students need to taught in such a way that
they gain TD habits of mind if they ever hope
to move beyond consumption and learn from
responsible living curricula
• Teachers and educators can gain much from
the synergy evident from the large ideas
shared in this paper:
▫ TD knowledge (includes wicked problems)
▫ TD seven habits of mind
▫ TD learning (at the borders)
▫ TD learning cycle
▫ TD four pillars of learning
(wicked problems)
Habits of Mind
Orientation to
Responsible Living
Learning Approach
(learning cycle and four
pillars of learning)

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