NSEAD WHITE PAPER (Final Draft 11/14/12)


Kathryn Evans* and Roger Malina**, University of Texas at Dallas, School of Arts and Humanities, USA

*Senior Lecturer and Head, Vocal and Choral Music, UTD
**Professor and Associate Director, Arts and Technology (ATEC), UTD

Paul Thomas, University of New South Wales, Associate Professor, COFA, Australia
Meredith Tromble, San Francisco Art Institute, USA

Higher education has long been departmental in nature (dating back to the 19th century), and becomes more restrictive as a student moves from “interesting” Freshman seminars bridging a wide range of topics, through their major courses in a departmental area and finally into graduate school, where a single department awards their degree based on a usually narrow set of course requirements and a thesis or dissertation.  However, in the 21st century, investigators are finding that there are often tools, information, resources and even points of view from other disciplines that can elucidate and even answer the problem they are studying.  Many studies recommend “big” solutions that require fundamental changes to hiring, promotion and tenure, funding and support, and evaluation of grant proposals and publications in cross-disciplinary areas. This study suggests a “small” solution:  the creation of a compendium of arts-science-humanities cross-disciplinary curriculum that will encourage faculty to offer such courses.  A Call for Contributions was initiated in July of 2102, based on an earlier Call for Courses in 2009 via the Leonardo Journal (,  a web site was created and submissions were posted at .  The data from the courses was analyzed as to the cross-disciplines, level of offering (graduate vs. undergraduate), geographical location and the department offering the course.    Suggested actions include specific ideas to enhance networking and visibility, address lack of information about geographical bases for cross-disciplinary courses, and encourage federal funding agencies to approve a research effort to demonstrate the effectiveness of cross-disciplinary art-science-humanities courses in training the scientists, artists and scholars of the next generation.

In 2001, Stephen Wilson wrote “The arts and sciences are two great engines of culture: sources of creativity, places of aspiration and markers of aggregate identity.” (Wilson 2001)  Art has a serious impact on student creativity and innovation.  Students who engage in art-making are more inclined to take risks, create collectively and individually, work in groups, think “outside the box”, transfer skills between disciplines, learns to speak persuasively, network, are willing to fail and can disregard the dominant point of view to create new perspectives.  (Reid 2011)   Indeed, the National Academies have remarked that the need for interdisciplinary education is driven by increasingly complex problems that cut across traditional disciplines and recommended “”students should seek out interdisciplinary experiences, such as courses at the interfaces of traditional disciplines”” (National Academies 2004).

In 2003, Beyond Productivity: Information, Technology, and Creativity, a committee composed of educators from several major universities, corporate researchers and working artists identified several barriers to collaboration between the arts and information technology.  The barriers to collaboration in the arts, sciences, and humanities generally are the same and include the presence of academic silos, lack of funding, the minor role mainstream arts play in many major institutions, and the difficulty of creating hybrid collaborations.  The arts play a small part in the general education requirements of the state universities in the three largest states in the Unites States: California, New York and Texas. The California State University System general education requirements include only one course in the arts and one in the humanities, as opposed to four courses in math and sciences; New York and Texas requirements are essentially the same, with some institutions, such as the University of Texas at Dallas requiring far more math and science “” 5 courses “” and the same level of arts and humanities.  The recommendations in Beyond Productivity to colleges and universities, primarily to administrators, included the support of interdisciplinary curriculum at the undergraduate level. Other recommendations were “big” solutions that require fundamental changes to hiring, promotion and tenure, funding and support, and evaluation of grant proposals and publications in cross-disciplinary areas. (Mitchell 2003)

In the 21st century, investigators are finding that there are often tools, information, resources and even points of view from other disciplines that can elucidate and even answer the problem they are studying.  However, higher education has long been departmental in nature (dating back to the 19th century), and becomes more restrictive as a student moves from “interesting” Freshman seminars bridging a wide range of topics, through their major courses in a discipline and finally into graduate school, where a single department awards their Masters or Ph.D. degree based on a usually narrow set of course requirements and a thesis or dissertation.  Graduate students who wish to take courses in other departments are often told that those courses “don’t count” towards their degree, sending a negative message.  Faculty are told that they may not “get full course credit” for their course if they team-teach with a faculty member in another department.  Issues of funding, resources and evaluation are difficult for faculty who cross disciplines.  New programs and centers are trying to bridge this gap, but most institutions do not offer “cross-disciplinary” courses in their standard curriculum. Much work needs to be done, not only to encourage institutions and administrators to offer such courses, but to assist instructors with examples of courses that cross from science, technology, engineering and mathematics to the arts and humanities (“STEM” to “STEAM”)  and that will inspire them to create courses, either by themselves or in collaboration with other faculty.

Even though interdisciplinarity and interdisciplinary studies are terms that are more closely associated with the 20th century, the concept has historical antecedents in Greek philosophy. Aristotle’s division of the various disciplines into the area of knowledge (theology, mathematics and physics), the practical subjects (ethics and politics) and the productive subjects (fine arts, poetics and engineering) were then tied together by philosophy as the universal field of inquiry.  Up until the end of the nineteenth century, the word “science” was often used interchangeably with “philosophy”, to mean all forms of knowledge rather than particular branches of it.  From the 1830s onward, the term “science” began to refer to the natural sciences.  (Moran 2010).  Nietszche attacked the rise of disciplines in his essay We Scholars, which he saw as a creation of the research-oriented German universities.  The specialized “scholar” replaced the “philosopher” as a way to climb the career ladder within a professionalized society.  The university was becoming a closed institution, through the creation of departments, learned societies and journals, and the acquisition of a Ph.D. in a specialized subject. The term “interdisciplinary” emerged within the context of concerns about general education in the mid-1920s and became common usage in the social sciences and humanities after World War II. (Moran 2010)
There are still many barriers to interdisciplinary work, including different types of training, institutional context, and different pedagogical systems.  Study in the humanities tends to be historically organized, while in the sciences knowledge is seen as cumulative, with study focusing on the most up-to-date discoveries and research, characterizing the history of the discipline as a mere stepping stone to the current work.   C. P. Snow delineated this division in his oft-quoted The Two Cultures and the Scientific Revolution, a lecture delivered Cambridge in 1959, about the “gulf of mutual incomprehension” that existed between the sciences and the humanities.  Those who cite this gulf often forget that Snow suggested that the best way to improve the situation was education and particularly interdisciplinary studies. (Snow [1959] 1998)
The current climate of emphasizing assessment in all areas of higher education has been extended to interdisciplinary courses, which have their own unique challenges in defining objectives and setting goals, given that they must often meld these from different areas.  Many universities now have suggestions for faculty who engage in interdisciplinary teaching, including defining objectives, specifying outcomes, identifying issues, encouraging critical thinking, and generating evaluative rubrics. (San Francisco State 2010).  While they do not directly address the intersection of the arts and sciences, there are long-standing organizations that do.  The Association for Integrative Studies, formed in 1979 to ” promote the interchange of ideas among scholars and administrators in all of the arts and sciences” maintains a website at that includes a variety of resources, including links to assessment references, a survey of graduate programs, peer-reviewed syllabi, and job listings for interdisciplinary programs.   Instructors of art-science-humanities curriculum would be well served by studying the rich tradition of interdisciplinary and integrative studies, in order to ameliorate some of the barriers that still exist in university departments and disciplines.

In November of 2009, Drs. Victoria Vesna and Roger Malina sent out a call for curriculum through Leonardo, a publication of the International Society for the Arts, Sciences and Technology (   A second call for curriculum was issued in July of 2012, posted to Leonardo and over 10 LinkedIn Sites in art, science and technology.

Leonardo Executive Editor Roger Malina and UT Dallas doctoral student Kathryn Evans are interested in examples of courses and curricula that are in the art-science-humanities field such as courses on art and biology, music and mathematics, art and chemistry, dance and environmental sciences, etc. The call is an re-launch of a similar call issued in 2009 ( and will be included in a Advocacy White Paper (Breaking Down the Silos: Curriculum Development as a Tool for Crossing Disciplines in the Arts, Sciences and Humanities)  that is being developed in response to the international call for Advocacy White Papers issued by the network for Science Engineering Art and Design ( The White Paper is being developed with an international advisory group consisting of Paul Thomas (Australia), Edward Shanken (Netherlands), and Christo Doherty (South Africa).

We are interested in the broad range of all forms of the performing arts, including music, dance, theatre and film, and the visual arts; and connecting to all the hard and social sciences. We are including art and new technologies (eg: nano tech) but in general not new media curricula unless they include an art-science component.

Individuals who have taught an art-science-humanities course at the university or secondary-school level, in formal or informal settings, are invited to contact Kathryn Evans, with details of their curriculum.  Please include permission to include your course on the Curriculum Development in the Arts, Sciences and Humanities (CDASH) website

A website at was created to post these courses and faculty where contacted for permission to list their courses, with their institution and brief descriptions, on the site.  They were also asked to send any other courses they wish to have included and to update their descriptions.  Permissions and updates were received for over 70 courses, along with additional material.  The site also contains a mission statement, relevant literature, programs and research centers and other areas of interest.  Contact information for additions or corrections is included, and interest in a specific course will be forwarded to the relevant instructor.  The website was expanded to include these new contributions, including an area for Primary and Secondary Curricula, other Calls for Contributions, and other areas of interest.
All courses were cross-disciplinary in nature, either general science and the arts, or a specific science and the arts, or a specific science and a specific art.  Courses included both undergraduate and graduate level curriculum and some K-12 curricula in the United States, as well as courses in medical schools.  It is clear that the K-12 offerings are of vital importance to higher education efforts in this area.  However, the issues in K-12 education and higher education, while connected,  are distinct from one another in the way curriculum decisions are made and implemented.  Hence, we have chosen not to discuss the K-12 curricula at this time, as they are outside the scope of this research.  Submissions were received from Australia (5), Canada (8), Germany (7), Italy (1), Netherlands (4), Russia (1), Serbia (1), United Kingdom (8), United States (42).  While the focus of this effort was in art-science-humanities curricula, a few submissions involved computer science, cognitive science, sociology and psychology.  The areas are indicated in the chart in Appendix A.  Specific submissions are listed in Appendix B.  The largest areas were biology (19.74%) and visual arts (68.42%).    Very few couress in theatre, dance or music were submitted.  Some of the submissions did not meet the precise criteria as some combined the “hard” and “soft” sciences but not specifically the arts.  Overall, there were approximately the same numbers of undergraduate courses (46%) versus graduate courses (54%).  However, the breakdown between US courses (undergraduate 67% vs. graduate 34%) and non-US courses (undergraduate 22% vs. graduate 78%) was significant, with a higher percentage of graduate offerings in the non-US population.  In the US, 15 courses (36%) were offered in science departments, 14 (33%)  were offered in arts departments and the remainder (13 courses or 31%) were offered by interdisciplinary programs, an almost equal distribution between the three offering departments.  Outside the US, 12 courses (33%) were offered in science departments, 18 were offered in arts departments (50%) and the remainder (6 courses or 17%) were offered in interdisciplinary programs, clearly a much heavier weighting towards art programs.  This distribution suggests that different areas of the world conceive of interdisciplinary curricula in a different context and is an area ripe for further research.
The compilation is also admittedly heavily weighted to courses in the United States (53%), due to the initial posting in an American journal.  This sample is by no means representative, but a response to a specific call.  It does however exhibit the large variety of cross-disciplinary courses that are being offered across all the various fields of science and the arts.  In most cases, the courses are being offered by a single individual in a discipline who has an interest in another discipline.  Very few team-taught courses were observed.  Two notable exceptions to these observations were the programs at UC Davis, which connects faculty from multiple disciplines in the Art Science Fusion program; and the San Francisco Art Institute, which offers courses through their Interdisciplinary Studies program in the arts and biology, mathematics and astronomy.  “Science, Technology and Society”, a new program at Stanford, provides faculty with a space “to think about interdisciplinary issues that may not necessarily have a home in their own department.” (AACU 2012).  While the focus of this study was art-science-humanities, this initial compilation of courses further indicates that there is a increasingly “fuzzy” border between the arts, sciences (both hard and soft) and the humanities.
This study also did not address the growing body of “informal” education courses now being offered over the Internet.  There is a growing hacker/maker/”Do it Yourself”/ citizen scientist population who now explore the intersections of the arts, sciences and humanities through courses offered on MMOCs (Massive Open Online Courses), informal workshops and other community based art-science-humanities educational activities.  Additionally, institutions of higher education are developing coursework with non-profit organizations to enhance their own online learning abilities.  MIT, Harvard, the University of California at Berkeley and the University of Texas System have recently partnered with EdX, a non-profit venture designed specifically for interactive study via the web.  This rapidly expanding educational development is also an area ripe for investigation.

Suggested Action #1:  Networking and Visibility
To date, no comprehensive inventory or study of cross-disciplinary course curriculum has been conducted.  The current website invites contributions in order to expand the listings.  A call for courses can be initiated through the College Art Association ( and other networking organizations in the arts and sciences such as the Art & Science Collaborations, Inc.(  In order to attract submissions from Europe, international organizations like YASMIN ( could be contacted.  A new call for courses should be initiated through SEAD (Network for Sciences, Engineering, Arts and Design,  A proper and extensive survey of such curriculum would encourage faculty members in art and science disciplines to offer such courses and collaborate with other faculty in complementary areas.
Barrier:  Cross-disciplinary art-science-humanities instructors are isolated and often work with no knowledge of best practices, other instructors and courses, and possible collaborations.
Target:  Instructors of cross-disciplinary curricula
Solution:  Networking and Visibility
Suggested actions:  A dedicated website, designed to assist instructors with information about other curricula, including a cloud-based syllabi resource, a blog for communication, links to best practices in interdisciplinary curriculum; and announcements of international conferences in art-science-humanities efforts and conferences. The CDASH website could be expanded to include these areas.  This could lead to heightened presence of the website in academic journals and websites.

Suggested Action #2:  Geographical Study of Cross-Disciplinary Art-Science-Humanities Curricula
While many “art-science” papers and studies call for “big” solutions, the “small” solution of art-science-humanities cross-disciplinary coursework at the undergraduate and graduate level could be an important part of a student’s education, creating a generation of artists and scientists that will see these collaborations as natural and necessary. Students already live in a highly technological world where they move seamlessly across science, technology and the arts and humanities.  However, we have not yet used current available technology to study where these courses are being offered and in what context.  A study of “informal” art-science-humanities education, with an emphasis on community engagement would add to the overall knowledge of current offerings.
Barrier:  Lack of information about where art-science-humanities cross-disciplinary curriculum are currently being offered and their impact on the educational environment
Target:  Instructors, administrators and funding agencies for higher education
Solution:  Asset mapping efforts of art-science-humanities cross-disciplinary courses and workshops, both formal and informal
Suggestion actions:  An international study that uses asset mapping tools as a way of defining the current “state-of-the-state” and identify geographical nodes and centers of learning.  This could include both formal, for-credit courses, on-line educational sites and local informal courses.

Suggested Action #3:  Integration Through Research
Cross-disciplinary art-science-humanities courses are still rare in most university degree plans and are still not a part of standard curriculum at the tertiary level in both the undergraduate and graduate programs.   Administrators and curriculum designers are focused more on limiting the number of electives to increase graduation rates with minimal time to graduation and hence a reduction in cost to the student.  The requirements for tenure and promotion, course credit, and funding are distinctly disciplinary in most universities.  Cross-disciplinary teaching and research is not rewarded in the current evaluative process. The most effective way to do so would be to foster an environment where cross-disciplinary courses are offered and resources are made available to instructors who wish to teach them.  Further, we must foster research that helps justify the inclusion of such courses into standard university degree plans. This requires substantial evidence that cross-disciplinary curriculum is a valuable part of every student’s education.
Barrier:  Cross-disciplinary art-science-humanities curriculum is not seen as valuable in degree plans
Target:  Administrators and curriculum designers in higher education
Solution:  Research and Integration
Suggested action:  A nationally funded research effort to investigate the usefulness of cross-disciplinary art-science-humanities education with an eye towards answering the following questions:  Are students who have taken cross-disciplinary art-science-humanities courses more accepting or interested or explorative of areas outside their majors? Are they more innovative? Can they think “outside the box’? Can they become members of the “Creative Class”?  More specifically, students who are currently taking cross-disciplinary courses should be evaluated before and after their curricular experience to study the effects of this kind of education.  These students are the future generation of scientists, artists and scholars. Until we can demonstrate the clear usefulness of this kind of curricula, it will be difficult to convince administrators and curriculum designers that this kind of curriculum has a clear value and should be included in existing degree plans.

AACU (Association of American Colleges and Universities).  “Liberal Education for the Twenty-First Century: Science, Technology and Society at Stanford University.” AACU News., 12 April 2012. Web. 19 Apr 2012. .

Mitchell, William J., Alan S. Inouye, and Marjory S. Blumenthal. Beyond Productivity: Information, Technology, Innovation, and Creativity. Washington, D. C. : National Academies Press, 2003. Print.

Moran, Joe. Interdisciplinarity: The New Critical Idiom. 2nd. ed. London and New York: Routledge, 2010. eBook.

National Academies. Committee on Science, Engineering and Public Policy.  Facilitating Interdisciplinary Research (Washington, DC: National Academy Press, 2004), 4.

Nietzsche, Friderich.  “Published Works | Beyond Good and Evil | We Scholars.” The Nietzsche Channel. N.p.. Web. 21 Oct 2012.


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