Current GE-Approved Interdisciplinary Courses
Status as of 5/2/03Jim Proctor


After coordinating with Denise, I trained two of her RAs to identify potential interdisciplinary courses based on the criteria below:

  1. Course must be on existing approved GE course list under a subject area C through G.
  2. Subject Area criterion: Course must demonstrate substantive engagement with material from outside its subject area. Some possible forms of substantive engagement may include (i) concepts, theories, or ideas, (ii) analytical methods or skills, or (iii) societal applications. Minimal substantive engagement is defined as at least one-quarter of overall class meeting time.
  3. "Smoothies" criterion: Alternatively, course must meet minimum threshold of interdisciplinarity as defined by four measures: (a) number of disciplines, (b) distance between them, (c) novelty of connections between disciplines, and (d) integration of disciplines. We provided a numerical rating from 1 (low) to 3 (high) for each of these four measures, and established as an initial threshold a sum of 8 or above.

All candidate courses were rated on both the subject area and smoothies criteria in order to compare results and identify the best criterion for future implementation (each has particular strengths and weaknesses). Results were entered into a spreadsheet, including a confidence rating from 1 to 3 for each criterion, given the relative paucity of information available for most courses.


As of today, courses have been counted primarily for the following departments (though not exhaustive in all departments noted below):

Based on the two subject area criterion, 137 courses qualify so far, with an average confidence rating of 2.2 (1 = low, 3 = high). The smoothies criterion requires further calibration so that the two RAs doing the analysis may attain greater consistency. The number of courses that qualify on the smoothies criterion depends on the minimum standard: for a minimum of 8 (out of 12 possible), 99 currently qualify, whereas if the standard were raised to 10 only 50 would qualify, and if dropped to 6 the number would rise to 125.

Based on the preliminary results above, it appears likely that we will be able to identify sufficient courses for an interdisciplinary core area or special requirement. We hope to finalize the smoothies-based estimates, add courses from other key departments, do a final check of the RAs coding, and add enrollment and prerequisite information by the end of next week. At that point we can more confidently say how many courses and enrollments would be available, based on either criterion and eliminating courses with excessive prerequisites (which may be dropped from the GE following other workgroup recommendations).

prepared for web by H. Marcuse, May 4, 2003
back to top, May 2, 2003 meeting summary notes, UCSB GE Workgroup homepage

Harold's response to an e-mail from Jim on May 3, 2003, 11pm:

Jim, you guessed correctly that that e-mail was in response to your query. I had to rush off after writing it, so I didn't respond personally. It was great that you prompted it, though--thanks!

By the way, I've decided INT makes more sense as an abbreviation than ID.

--On Saturday, May 03, 2003 1:30 PM -0700 Jim Proctor <> wrote:
> Hi Harold -- Thanks for the update. I can be there for the entire mtng
> next Fri. Re. the below: I can draft language for an ID area if you
> wish, perhaps in consultation with you and others. My sense, from your
> report at least, is that we'll frame ID as a Subject Area (w/out
> subdivisions), and EGQ as a Special Requirement; true?

Yes, I feel strongly that INT should be core, since by definition it is not any one subject area, but always multiple. And workgroup members conviced me that EGQ can't be packed into a subdivision of an INT core area.

Any given US-ETH, NWC, EGQ will usually be in just one subject area. Always, IF there were an INT subject area. Thus none of the latter make sense as core areas (nor does WCiv, for that matter, just as NWC does not).

BTW, the GE task force report emphasized that INT courses be added to the GE curriculum, but did not create a space for them. (Recommended putting them into 2 of the core areas, but allowing students to use them only for one.) Courses designed specifically for GE, like Mark Meadows' "Idea of the University" would have a natural home in an INT subject area, not buried deep in E and/or F.
> I would also appreciate your input as to which of the two criteria I
> discussed in the progress report I sent you a few days ago appear viable
> as a basis to communicate, for the purposes of the online straw poll,
> what would count as an ID Area course. My sense is that the two-subject
> area approach is easier to understand and communicate, but is a less
> sophisticated measure/defn of interdisciplinarity, and there may be
> courses in e.g. area D with lots of interesting semi-interdisciplinarity
> but they wouldn't count with the two subject-area language.

Both. Come on, we're academics in disciplines, and should be able to grasp two different ways of defining INT. If you didn't include the 2nd def., faculty would start asking about it. Actually, the two-subject type is really multidisciplinarity, isn't it? The polling of students was intended only for EGQ, since that is something that mainly "they" (how many of them?) want to add to GE. But it would also be interesting to know how many faculty support EGQ, since we will be voting on it, not students. Some of us think it is important, but maybe not crucial enough to make into a requirement.

INT on the other hand is something "we" think is intellectually relevant enough to require. To tell you the truth, I don't think our idea to poll extended to asking about INT. It was for EGQ only. (Please correct...)

In any case, I think your quantifying approach will please many faculty uncomfortable with judgement calls. It was nice for the GE committee to have operational numbers, like for WRT: "writing assignment to count for a substantial portion of the course grade" meaning 20% (15-25%) of the course grade, depending on how large the non-grade role of the WRT assignment in the course was (e.g. multiple drafts, preparatory non-WRT writing).

Finally, I think it couldn't hurt not to limit your search to courses already on GE, but to scan all LD courses. I'm sure you have oodles of time to do that. ;-)


prepared for web by H. Marcuse, May 4, 2003
back to top, May 2, 2003 meeting summary notes, UCSB GE Workgroup homepage