ICAT class tackles transdisciplinarity

(This semester, I’m teaching an Honors course all about ICAT. We spend each class period in a different ICAT studio or on a different ICAT project. This is the second in a series of guest blogs from my students.  Stay tuned for more.  Enjoy!  ~Phyllis)

From guest blogger Pamela Kryschtal:

 

It’s easy to say that collaboration is important. But why it’s important is a more difficult question. Can disciplines truly and seamlessly coexist? What will the future of this continued collaboration look like?These, among other questions of interdisciplinary work, are the kinds of questions that interest graduate student Kari Zacharias, the guest speaker this past Monday in ourIntroduction to the Institute for Creativity, Art, and Technology (ICAT) class.

 

As students in this introductory class, we are beginning to expose ourselves to this notion of collaboration among different disciplines. To prepare for this day, we identified vocabulary words that would come in handy. In particular, understanding the difference between multidisciplinary, cross  disciplinary, interdisciplinary, and transdisciplinary. The difference between these concepts includes how they are implemented and how they are utilized to solve complex problems.

 

Our day with Kari was informative and interactive. Kari began with a general “get to know you” round table, an important step to get the creative juices flowing, particularly when the topic is collaboration. She then continued by giving us a history of the arts and sciences blending together. Everything from the catalyst of “9 Evenings” in the 1960s, to the 1980s where these artist-engineer hybrids began to name themselves, and back to the 1860s, where the foundation for this world began with land grant universities and the transition from solving university problems to real problems.

 

Kari followed this introduction with an exercise to gain an insight of the possible future of ICAT.She began by asking us what we considered to be challenges with ICAT.We came up with a relatively comprehensive list and included challenges such as improper balance among the disciplines, the inability to communicate, and the job concerns associated with spending too much time outside of your specialty. Kari asked us to pick two of these challenges that stood out to us. We as a class decided on the disciplinary divide in these settings, i.e. how important decisions get made, and the review process, since art is subjective and technology is objective. We placed each of these challenges on a coordinate plane with the disciplinary divide as the y-axis and the review process as the x-axis. Each end of the axes represented the extremes in each of these scenarios, a hierarchal vs. a radically democratic divide and a qualitative vs. a quantitative review process. We split in to groups and each tackled a quadrant of this graph and came up with a scenario for those imaginary settings. For example, what would the world look like if decisions were made in a hierarchy and all decisions were based on qualitative research? Aside from some discrepancies about when qualitative research is, each group came up with applicable and insightful scenarios that could assist in how we approach this world of collaboration.

 

As an engineering student who does not consider herself very creative, I found this entire day particularly interesting. Kari highlighted that this initial collaboration was intended to “save the soul of the engineer.” In her paper, “Land-Grant Hybrids: From Art and Technology toSEAD,” Kari and author Matthew Wisnioski point out that these types of collaborations at MIT began, “with the intention of “humanizing” MIT’s local and national image through civic art.”was beginning to think that I was studying to become a pencil pushing numbers monger in need of saving until I read that, “MIT provided the equipment and the experts to realize artists’ interpretations in technological media.” I was put at ease with the realization that while I might benefit from an artist’s perspective, the respect is mutual and we all need each other.

 

Pamela Kryschtal is a seasoned but enthusiastic engineering student at Virginia Tech. She is driven by a passion for experiences and communication.

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