Speaking of Education

This month's APA Education Leadership Conference (ELC), Sept. 10–14, will address critically important issues for psychology's future, namely, how we prepare our students for interdisciplinary and interprofessional research, teaching and practice. No one discipline has the key to solving major societal problems. However, at the core of many of the world's problems is behavior.

That's why, if psychology is to remain relevant as a discipline and a profession, we must prepare a work force that can address society's most pressing concerns, from health and education to the environment and world peace. We need strong interdisciplinary science and its application through interprofessional practice. Interdisciplinary teaching and learning are fundamental to the process.

Interdisciplinary team science

Interdisciplinary science has grown substantially over the last two decades. The federal government, for example, has enhanced funding for interdisciplinary research, while the Internet has revolutionized access to knowledge and our ability to collaborate. Universities have built linkages across disciplinary departments by methods such as creating centers, indirect cost splitting, course credit sharing, curriculum and new degree programs. A 2005 report from the National Academy of Sciences, Facilitating Interdisciplinary Research, provides numerous recommendations that will inform a new task force appointed by APA's Board of Educational Affairs and Board of Scientific Affairs to address research training needs in psychology. Programming at ELC will highlight changes in the academy and advances in team science.

Interprofessional practice

ELC participants will also review the recently released report Core Competencies for Interprofessional Collaborative Practice. For several years, APA has worked with the Interprofessional Professionalism Collaborative to articulate specific behaviors in support of these competencies. When we are able to agree on clear interprofessional competencies expected for all health professionals, we will be able to devise appropriate curricula, including innovations in interprofessional education itself. A hallmark of the APA-initiated Graduate Psychology Education training program is interdisciplinary training.

Interdisciplinary teaching and learning

ELC participants will also examine a Project Kaleidoscope initiative of the American Association of Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) titled What Works in Facilitating Interdisciplinary Learning. The goal of this effort is to engage students as integrative learners who appreciate the complexity of nature and can draw on multiple bodies of knowledge to advance understanding and solve problems. APA is participating in a related AAC&U grant with other STEM disciplines to develop projects on sustainability for undergraduate education. Given psychology's relevance to other disciplines and to complex societal problems, the introductory psychology course is a great opportunity for interdisciplinary learning and can help create the psychologically literate citizens promulgated by the 2008 APA National Conference on Undergraduate Education in Psychology.

There is little doubt but that fostering interdisciplinary work is a 21st century imperative, that psychology has much to contribute, and that our education and training system must provide adequate preparation. But as we hear about "silo-smashing" initiatives in health, education and industry, we need to remember that silos are really a hallmark of agriculture, and although an entire farm or family of farms is necessary to produce a food supply, silos are integral parts of those farms. We now have multiple ways to foster interconnectivity. Psychology needs both depth and breadth in its future work force.

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