How do you solve problems? You bring diverse perspectives together and create a new approach. That's what's happening in a new class at the University of Houston Honors College called Asthmatic Spaces: Houston, which uses a multi-disciplinary and collaborative approach to problem-based studies.
"It's about a process to think about the open-ended nature of research," said Daniel Price, associate professor with the UH Honors College and director of the class. "You have to ask ‘what are the tools I can bring to bear on the problem, so that I can answer the question?' not ‘how can I convince other people to accept my view of the world?'"
Asthmatic Spaces: Houston will begin in the spring semester and will partner not only with other colleges on campus, but with students from New York's Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute who are embarking on similar research endeavors.
Asthma was chosen as a subject to study because of air quality research already being done in Houston and because of the varied perspectives that have changed the way we consider the condition. Price says what used to be investigated as an individual health issue has become a political issue, included in global warming and environmental justice discussions. He says students will develop a new understanding of asthma and its related issues by examining how different disciplines approach and define the problems.
"We need to get people from the humanities, social sciences and hard sciences to talk to each other," Price said. "This class will mimic the diversity in skills that they'll encounter in the real world, so they'll be asked to look at their own problem-solving techniques. Some are very good filmmakers, so I'd expect them to convey their perspective through that medium. Others are very skilled in mathematics and can show how they create a model from their discipline, as will our engineering or biology students."
UH Professors from pharmacy, science, anthropology, health, politics, history and medicine and society will contribute to the class from their own research perspectives. Students will have internship opportunities with the City of Houston mobile air quality lab and will create digital research projects that will be shared on a special Web site that will serve as a public service to those seeking information about asthma and its related issues.
"These ways of thinking of how we talk to each other is a really good way of thinking about education," Price said. "Education should be learning how to talk to other people better."