Interdisciplinarity, Multidisciplinary, and Transdisciplinarity: What It All Means and How the Frontiers of Knowledge Are Changing


  • Michael Summers George Mason University; Department of Physics and Astronomy
  • Harold Geller George Mason University
  • Rebecca Ericson George Mason University
  • Jim Trefil George Mason University



collaborative learning, team-based learning, student engagement, critical thinking, global learning, multidisciplinary learning, interdisciplinary learning, transdisciplinary learning



Learn to prepare students for interdisciplinary, multidisciplinary, and transdisciplinary work. This panel will explore and discuss the nature of crossdisciplinary work students may experience in their academic and professional careers, and introduce how experienced teachers of interdisciplinary courses engage their students in multi-faceted research here at Mason.


FULL ABSTRACT: Most big problems facing humanity (give examples to the audience: Climate Change, understanding the Brain and Consciousness, Computational Social Science, and the future challenges as humanity moves into space) are multifaceted, interdisciplinary, multidisciplinary, and transdisciplinary (define these for audience). Also, as in any field of scholarship that involves basic research, the key developments that move a field forward typically come from unexpected directions (e.g. the internet, materials science, etc.). Furthermore, research in these highly interdisciplinary realms typically involves working in large teams of highly varied experts. How do you teach and train students to be aware of the large context in which they will be working in the future and at the same time give the students sufficient depth of understanding in a specific field so that they can make significant contributions to such projects?à

This session will be a short presentation (15 mins) providing definitions and an overview of the nature of interdisciplinary, multidisciplinary, and transdisciplinary work, followed by a panel discussion on the opportunities and challenges of training students in interdisciplinary fields of research. The panel will include people who have substantial experience in teaching interdisciplinary courses and engaging in such multi-faceted research at Mason.

Panelists include: Michael Summers (Astrobiology ASTR 301: Teaching the most interdisciplinary of all of the sciences: The origin, evolution, and future of life in the universe)

For more information about teaching in the disciplines:à

For session spacific materials, please request directly from the presenter Mike Summers:à

Author Biographies

Michael Summers, George Mason University; Department of Physics and Astronomy

Michael Summer is a professor of Physics and Astronomy at George Mason University.

**2014 GMU Teaching Excellence Award**

Harold Geller, George Mason University

Term Professor of Astronomy

Rebecca Ericson, George Mason University

Term Professor of Astronomy

Jim Trefil, George Mason University

Robinson Professor of Physics





10:30am-11:10am Mini-Workshops, Panels, & Roundtables