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Team-Taught Interdisciplinary Course on Visualization

Integrating Medieval Chinese Buddhism and STEAM

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The concept for this class was the outcome of many discussions about the central role of collaborative teaching and learning in the future of higher education faculty members have been involved in at Abington College. We envisioned this course as a pilot project that could pave the way for future interdisciplinary and collaborative teaching on our campus, and could serve as a model for other campuses throughout the university system. The specific problem that this course was intended to address was that, all too often, classroom instruction of our students remains one-dimensional, bounded by disciplinary methodologies and inherited comfort-zones. One of our main goals was to generate deeper possibilities for critical thinking and creativity through the explicit and purposeful integration of multiple disciplines. Our ideal outcome for the class was nothing less than the creation of a new, integrated model of teaching and learning that transcended conventional approaches to postsecondary education. Through participation in discussions and collaborative work throughout the semester, students and faculty mentors expanded their intellectual horizons by making connections between different areas of academic inquiry. Whether they came into the class as scientists, programmers, historians, or artists, all participants experienced a highly stimulating range of approaches, and were pushed to think about how these can enrich one another.

The Text

Participating Faculty

  • Jake Benfield, Assistant Professor of Psychology,
  • Michael J. Bernstein, Associate Professor of Psychology,
  • William Cromar, Senior Lecturer of Art, newMedia,
  • Leah Devlin, Associate Professor of Biology,
  • Dolores Fidishun, Library & Information Science,
  • Yvonne Love, Assistant Professor of Art,
  • Joe Oakes, Senior Lecturer of IST,


  • New Program Development:
  • White Paper: The Interdisciplinary Classroom: Conversations Worth Having Before You Start
  • Conference Presentation, 11 Jun. 2015: Dolores Fidishun, Jacob Benfield, and William Cromar, “Exploring Visualization: Creating A Cross Disciplinary Collaborative Course Enhanced By Technology,” New Media Consortium Summer Conference 2015, Alexandria VA.
  • Conference Presentation, 1 Jun. 2015: Yvonne Love, Joe Oakes, and Jake Benfield, “Art and the Collaborative Ground,” 6th Annual Athens Institute for Education and Research International Conference on Visual and Performing Arts, Athens, Greece.
  • Conference Presentation, 11 Apr. 2015 (student presentation): George White and Eric West, poster presented at 10th Annual Greater Philadelphia Asian Studies Consortium Undergraduate Research Conference, Villanova University.
  • Conference Presentation, 21 Mar. 2015: William Cromar and Joe Oakes, “Exploring Visualization: Collaboration and Technology,” Teaching and Learning with Technology Conference, Penn State University, University Park.
  • Conference Presentation, 24 Mar. 2017: Pierce Salguero, “Humanities at Large” Visiting Faculty Fellows Conference, Duke University
  • Related Student Research Projects: Meditation & Healing in Philadelphia; Elderly Reactions to Simulated Experiences using Oculus Rift.
  • Related Courses Developed: Interdisciplinary integration between Intro to Asian Religions, Intro to East Asian History, and Intro to Sculpture classes (Fall ’15); Psychology and IST collaborative course on psychology of gaming (Spring ’16).


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This is a team-taught course designed to encourage collaboration and integration. Using a fifth- century Chinese Buddhist text on visualization meditation as a point of departure, students and faculty will jointly embark on an interdisciplinary exploration from the perspectives of History, Religious Studies, Art, New Media, Psychology, Neuroscience, and Information Sciences & Technology. We will research the role of visualization practices in Asian religion and philosophy, produce artwork that engages with the imagery and practices described in the text, examine the psychological and neurological foundations of meditation, and design an immersive virtual world based on the text using cutting-edge virtual reality technology. The semester’s main learning objective will be to integrate interdisciplinary approaches through individual and collaborative projects, which will be displayed on a multimedia website.

Prerequisites: Invitation by faculty


This semester, we will employ a system of grading called a “Learning Contract.” This system is designed to encourage you to customize your own learning experience.The contract will allow you a great amount of freedom, flexibility, and personal choice in your grading, but will require you to “rise to the occasion” in terms of your professionalism, academic achievement, and intellectual engagement throughout the semester. Your LC will also include make-up and absence policies, which you will craft yourself (see Default LC to use as an example).

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There are three basic components to your final grade: (1) Blogging & Class Participation, (2) Projects, and (3) Portfolio Presentations

Blogging & Class Participation (20% of final grade)

This portion of the grade is a holistic assessment of your overall effort and contribution to the course blog and to our class discussions. Attendance is a major factor. Also, you should be attentive in class, be reflective upon the material, be willing to participate in the conversation, raise questions of your own, and otherwise contribute constructively to the group in every class period. In addition, all students will be required to contribute to the class blog each and every week, as well as to read and comment on each other’s work.This component will be collectively graded by the faculty you choose to work with for your projects. <See BEST PRACTICES FOR BLOGGING for more information.>

Projects (60% of final grade)

Faculty mentors have devised a menu of project options for you to choose from that are representative of the range of disciplines involved in this course. Possible projects include a history research paper, an immersive experience of Buddhist lifestyle, an art or new media project, a psychology experiment, or a virtual reality coding challenge. More detailed descriptions of these projects are provided separately <See PROJECT DESCRIPTIONS & RUBRICS.>

Each project has a separate set of learning outcomes, expectations, processes, and grading rubric. At the beginning of the semester, you will specify which three projects you would like to complete, and how much of your final grade each will comprise (each project can be weighted between 10% and 40%, adding up to a total of 60%). Each project will be graded separately by the faculty you choose to work with, according to the rubric that is provided for each project.

Portfolio Presentation (20% of final grade)

By the end of the semester, you will have had the opportunity to be involved in three separate projects with three separate faculty mentors.The portfolio presentation is your opportunity to present your work to the class, and to demonstrate how you have synthesized the separate disciplinary approaches you have explored into an integrated interdisciplinary portfolio. This component will be collectively graded by all faculty mentors and students, using a rubric we collectively devise during the semester. <See PORTFOLIO PRESENTATION GUIDELINES for more information.>

Reposted from

Written by

Seeking larger perspectives that balance being an academic with being human. By scholar of Asian medicine and Buddhism, Pierce Salguero (

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