The ?Undisciplined,? Interdisciplinary Problem: PBL and the Expanding Limits of SMET Education

  • Mark E Walls


In many disciplines, knowledge and its paradigms are in flux. They are ?decentering,? to use the postmodernists? term. Pluralism, contextuality, and relativism are ideological forces changing how we think and teach. Core parts of our cultures our politics, technologies, economies, philosophies, and histories all inherently ambiguous, generally are acknowledged, even celebrated, as such. Certainly, modern problems across our cultures rarely are one-dimensional or discrete. Julie Thomson Klein considers this in an important work on interdisciplinarity, Crossing Boundaries: Knowledge, Disciplinarities and Interdisciplinarities. She acknowledges that contemporary problems defy rigid and absolutist thinking and require integrated frames of disciplinary reference. ?The complexity of problems that professionals face in practice creates a sense of interdisciplinary necessity. . . . By their very nature,? Klein writes, ?they are open-ended, multidimensional, ambiguous, and unstable. Considered ?wicked? and ?messy,? the problems at the heart of many professional fields cannot be bounded and managed by classical approaches to the underlying phenomena? (1996, p. 40). Indeed, the borders of our problems are more than just close and contiguous. Problems integrate and join. They combine in complex permutations that can make discipline boundaries much less significant or meaningful.