Interdisciplinary Computing is the Answer,
Now What was the Question?

Lillian N. Cassel

So, what is the meaning of "interdisciplinarity"? For our purposes, we will narrow the subject from interdisciplinary cooperation in general to the subdomain that includes computing as part of each instance. Hence, for computing, interdisciplinarity means collaborative efforts, involving at least two fields, with at least one of them being computing. There are various ways of collaborating that include more or less integration of the combined disciplines. Multidisciplinary collaboration includes multiple disciplines, but keeps the expertise in separate contributors. Real interdisciplinarity requires that each participant has some level of understanding of the whole problem domain, while each brings depth in one of the required areas. Let's consider the risks and the potential benefits as well as a few possible expectations that might not be met.

Not everyone supports the concept of interdisciplinarity. For some, an emphasis on interdisciplinary efforts suggests neglect of the individual fields. The point is that if we are teaching a combined subject, or focusing on research that spans the boundaries between disciplines, then there is not time or energy enough to give full attention to either (or each) of the participating disciplines [5]. In terms of interdisciplinary computing, students will not learn enough computing if they are studying "Computing Plus X" or "Y – Informatics". They will not learn enough about computing or about X or Y either. This view suggests that areas that require expertise in more than one area should be addressed by teams of experts, with each expert being well versed in one of the necessary pieces, not partially prepared in several.

On the other hand, interdisciplinary efforts are widespread. Some universities have more interdisciplinary centers than they have traditional academic departments [5]. The centers exist simultaneously with the departments and provide a venue for joint efforts to address current problems that span disciplines. In some cases, the problems are sufficiently substantial and long lasting that they develop into new fields in their own right, spawning new journals, new subspecialties, and new problem sets - becoming new departments in the traditional sense.

The interest in interdisciplinarity comes from a variety of motivations. Some problems simply cannot be solved by one discipline alone. For example, the stated reasons for many efforts and examples include the effect of cities on ecology, conducted at Arizona State University in the late 1990s [2] and the emerging field of Web Science [1]. Other motivators are more pragmatic. Being in at the beginning of a new area is a way to become prominent and attract attention in the form of grants, faculty, and students. Being at the top of something new may be easier than redeveloping a reputation for existing departments that are not currently at the top in their areas. Funding agencies have increased attention to interdisciplinary research in the last decade, further increasing interest in these types of activities.

Raising Questions
A theme of more direct interest to computing educators has some of the characteristics of more general interdisciplinarity discussions; however, it has some special considerations. It is easy to see the potential contribution of the computing disciplines to other fields and to make a case so students in all disciplines should have some computing experience. It is a very easy case to make for us in the computing field, although perhaps not as easy for our colleagues in other fields to accept.

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  • March 09, 2010 - 02:41 PM
    Post by Peter

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  • March 08, 2010 - 02:41 PM
    Post by Komputer6

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