What is Integrative Learning?

Fostering students’ abilities to integrate learning—over time, across courses, and between academic, personal, and community life—is one of the most important goals and challenges of higher education. The undergraduate experience is often a fragmented landscape of general education, concentration, electives, cocurricular activities, and for many students "the real world" beyond campus. An emphasis on integrative learning can help undergraduates find ways to put the pieces together and develop habits of mind that will prepare them to make informed judgments in the conduct of personal, professional, and civic life.

Matthew Fisher
Saint Vincent College

Matt Fisher has taught at St. Vincent College in Latrobe since 1995 and is presently the chair of the Chemistry Department. 

He has attended a number of our weekend workshops, and at one, about a year or so ago, the subject of integrative learning came up. He approached us during the break, saying he had some experience with it and would be happy to work with folks at IUP during such a Saturday workshop. 

In fact, he has more than “a little experience,” and we feel lucky to have him here.

In 2005, he was a Carnegie Academy Scholar, part of a cohort exploring the SoTL of Integrative Learning and developing courses and programs to foster integrative learning at their home institutions. His project, which you can read more about on the CASTL website, is titled:

Connecting Biochemical Concepts to Public Policy Issues and Personal Values

This project focuses on connecting fundamental concepts in biochemistry to a number of broader social issues, including HIV/AIDS, malaria, tuberculosis, avian flu, diabetes/malnutrition, and Alzheimer’s disease. My hope is that by incorporating these issues into the course, students will connect these global societal challenges with their own values and personal commitments. A major challenge is how to balance the content-intensive nature of biochemistry with the time and attention required to develop this integrative understanding. By choosing examples to illustrate fundamental concepts that are also clearly linked to issues such as HIV, malaria, tuberculosis, and malnutrition, I hope to have students develop the same level of understanding in regards to the underlying biochemical concepts in a different context. Readings from diverse sources such as The New Yorker, Nature, Science, The Lancet, UNAIDS, and excerpts from literary works serve as the basis for both individual reflection and class discussion. In this way, I hope that students will both learn scientific concepts now found in the course and connect these concepts in biochemistry through the emphasis on public health to both institutional and personal values.

His recent presentations demonstrate the many ways in which he has applied his knowledge of integrative learning:

Presentations: (selected list)

  1. "Five Elements and Two Forces: Using Examples from Traditional Chinese Culture in General Chemistry"
  2. "But What Does Adam Smith Have to do with Chemistry?: Using Diverse Texts in a Course for Non-Majors"
  3. "Science and Citizenship: Connecting Chemistry and Policy Decisions"
  4. "Interdisciplinary Writing and the Chemistry Curriculum at Saint Vincent"
  5. "Connecting Chemistry to the Big Questions: Implications and Challenges for General Education”
  6. "HIV/AIDS, Malaria, Malnutrition, and Undergraduate Biochemistry: A Tale of Two Worlds"