Collaboration across disciplines makes it easier to solve problems (including COVID-19 )


In this time of hoaxes and false news we miss ideas. The “good ideas” arise from knowledge, from reflection, from argumentation and from counter-argumentation. This is why cooperative and shared knowledge is so important. The concept of interdisciplinary refers to the study or activity that is carried out with the cooperation of various disciplines .

The cooperation between different disciplines allows analyzing the facts from multiple and varied perspectives. The facts analyzed in this way help to observe reality more completely. Facing COVID-19 is not just facing a virus, it is trying to understand its structure, how it arises and develops, how it acts on different people according to their level of immunity, their previous pathologies …

It is also designing individual, social and economic action plans, so it is not enough that microbiologists, doctors of different specialties and epidemiologists work together. Sociologists, psychologists, lawyers and politicians, among others, must also cooperate with each other to face the virus and its consequences.

The virus is dynamic and changing

The reality is not a still photo, it is dynamic and changing, and the virus also has these characteristics. Understanding it really requires treating it in interaction with the whole series of aspects that influence and influence it. It requires being observed, understood and treated as a sum of dynamic elements in constant interrelation.

If cooperation between disciplines is essential, sharing the different views of reality is no less. Each person is different, as is their view of reality. Two specialists in microbiology, for example, even if they have the learning and skills of that training, will not observe reality in exactly the same way.

Avoid bias

Each observer, involuntarily, parcels reality and focuses more on some of its parts. It is what is called prejudice or cognitive bias , and is often related to emotional or moral motivations.

The intensity of the pandemic, moreover, not to mention fear, forces us to act very quickly, which increases the tendency to focus attention on what confirms our beliefs and ignore what is contrary to us. This makes it more important than ever to share glances to limit distortions, imprecise judgments or partial visions.

Beyond countries and borders

The spread of the virus highlights and underlines interdependence beyond administrative organizations, countries, and borders. It forces us to observe and observe ourselves interdependently and more interconnectedly than ever. Pushes to observe how and why they do what specialists in other realities do. It forces you to take your knowledge into account, to explain ours, to share results. Without all this, the response would have been different and probably less rapid. It confirms how important the attitude of interdependence is between professionals and, also, between individuals on foot.

However, excessive specialization, education from specific subjects, sometimes too compartmentalized, does not facilitate this cooperative and shared vision. Education, except in the early stages, emphasizes academic learning, highly focused on the subject and, therefore, on many occasions decontextualized.

Problem-based learning

To overcome this, the McMaster University School of Medicine in Canada, already in the 1960s, designed the methodology called Problem-Based Learning . The curriculum was organized based on different real-life situations related to different areas of knowledge, to develop interdisciplinary, cooperative and shared work skills.

With the “Case Study” methodology, which pursues that same goal, since 2017 six UPV / EHU professors have been carrying out the experience of working on the same real case in the degrees of Social Education, Psychology and Primary Education.

The case describes the behavior of a scholar, his family situation, the way the class, the dining room, the patio and the center are organized. Addressing the particularities in their schooling taking into account the rest of the variables allows for a more interdisciplinary confrontation.

Four different disciplines

As there are four different disciplines from which it works, it has been necessary to coordinate times, meetings, design sequences and action plans that consider schedules, students, teachers, subjects and skills.

The case study focused, as we say, in the school context, where frequently different professionals have to collaborate to reach an agreement on an intervention plan that is developed with a child, group of students, family, institution …

Specifically, the authors formed interdisciplinary teams made up of future teachers, social educators, and psychologists to analyze the same case from a systemic point of view and collaborate in the design of an intervention.

In total, 370 students from different campus and grades and 6 professors from the UPV / EHU participated in the experience. The process had different phases: previous phase in which teachers and students, based on readings referring to Bronfenbrenner’s ecological theory, contrasted their previous ideas about the meaning of cooperation and interdisciplinarity; implementation phase, where the case study was carried out over 15 weeks in interdisciplinary groups; and the later phase where, in addition to making specific intervention proposals, they completed a questionnaire about their own learning process. The analysis of these proposals and the questionnaire responses indicated that their previous ideas about the concepts of cooperation and interdisciplinarity clearly improved.

Methodology of the “Case Study”

If the methodology of the “Case Study”, by itself, already requires observing the complexity of the situations, incorporating students from subjects of different degrees does nothing more than underline this aspect.

But if, in addition, students belong to different campuses, working together means overcoming administrative organizations and training in the development of that interdependent, collaborative and interdisciplinary vision that the global crisis caused by the pandemic demands.

Teachers have had to overcome the same barriers in order to fulfill the task of helping students confront ideas and points of view, challenge what seemed obvious, overcome compartmentalization and share knowledge.

All of this, which involves a great deal of organization, meeting and seeking agreement, has been intense but very interesting in the opinion of the two poles of the relationship. If we add to this the learning results obtained, the effort made seems to have been worthwhile.

The importance, therefore, of interdisciplinary work is so great that it becomes necessary to put it into practice from the moment of academic training. Only in this way will we be able to tackle problems that have their origin in a single discipline, but their solution in the sum of the knowledge of several.

Author Bios: Ana Arribillaga is Full professor at the Department of Evolutionary Psychology and Education,Alaitz Aizpurua Sanz is Professor and researcher at the Department of Evolutionary Psychology and Education, Igone Aróstegui Barandica is Professor at the Department of Didactics and School Organization, Joana Jaureguizar Alboniga-Mayor is Professor at the Department of Evolutionary Psychology and Education, Faculty of Education of Bilbao,Nagore Guerra Bilbao is Professor of Social Education and Naiara Berasategui Sancho is Professor in the Department of Didactics and School Organization all at the University of the Basque Country / Euskal Herriko Unibertsitatea