In recent years, research on interdisciplinarity in schools has been valorized, and some studies have underlined many benefits to such an approach but also many obstacles. Implementing interdisciplinarity seems quite difficult, and few studies have previously focused on the motivational effects of interdisciplinary programs. Interdisciplinary instruction seems to have a beneficial effect on students’ levels of motivation [1
]. However, ecological studies are particularly difficult to implement through an interdisciplinary approach, and many obstacles may interfere that could deteriorate the quality of the disciplines’ integration. Integration is defined by McPhail [3
] as the act of putting together several disciplines and can be associated with the term “interdisciplinarity”. In this study, we test the effect interdisciplinary teaching has on motivation in physical education (PE) through the theory of interest.
1.1. Situational Interest and Individual Interest
Interest is considered an important construct of motivation [6
]. According to the theory of interest, the expression of an intrinsically motivated behavior can be affected through personal preferences (individual interest) or through a stimulating task (situational interest).
Situational interest (SI) is a momentary psychological state characterized by heightened attention, concentration, and affect during activity [7
]. According to Linnenbrink-Garcia, Durik [8
], SI can be conceptualized through three factors. Triggered SI represents an increased affective state mainly initiated by the context. Although this variation in state only remains for a short period of time, it can lead to a Maintained-SI, as defined by Hidi and Renninger [9
]. Maintained SI includes two factors: Maintained-SI Feelings and Maintained-SI Value. The first factor measures the positive feelings experienced by students towards an activity in response to instructional support. The second measures the meaning and usefulness of the task to the students [10
In addition to SI, individual interest (II) is a stable trait of personality and a consistent predisposition to re-engage with a particular content [7
]. It is characterized by three factors [9
]. The “Positive affect and willingness to reengage” is linked to the task. This first factor refers to the positive state of enjoyment or excitement experienced by students while engaged in an activity and their willingness to reengage with it [7
]. Second, the “Stored utility value” represents students’ awareness of the value of an activity. Third, the “Stored attainment value and knowledge-seeking intentions” refers to the way an activity becomes personally important for students and relates to their goals and intention to deepen their knowledge [13
1.2. Interdisciplinarity at School
The term interdisciplinarity is often used generically to represent the interaction between two or more disciplines. It is essential to clearly define the terms used in this study. First, it is important to specify that in this paper, we only discuss interdisciplinarity in schools according to the definition by Lenoir and Hasni [14
]. Disciplinarity represents the division of knowledge and skills into compartmentalized and autonomous disciplines [15
]. Each discipline defines its limits and its field of application. The scope of a given discipline may vary according to the country, state, or even institution. Multidisciplinarity is a cumulative juxtaposition of several disciplines [16
] that creates a patchwork of knowledge around a common theme and does not lead to integration. Finally, interdisciplinarity aims for a deeper integration and interaction between disciplines. Whether at the level of objectives, methods, concepts, knowledge, etc., interdisciplinarity aims to go beyond disciplinary boundaries to answer a complex, common problem [15
]. According to several authors, it is essential that a strong link exists between the disciplines and, in particular, between concepts within the disciplines [18
]. Such a strong link ensures a successful and high-quality integration.
However, disciplinary and interdisciplinary approaches should not be seen as opposites. Interdisciplinarity is often used to address complex issues that a disciplinary approach cannot address holistically. However, these complex issues are often accessible when certain disciplinary skills have been acquired. Ebbing and flowing between disciplinary and interdisciplinary approaches can maximize the quality of the teaching sequences [3
]. According to the literature, the implementation of interdisciplinary sequences in schools has positive effects on students’ motivation and academic success, e.g., [5
]. However, ecological studies are still relatively rare due to the difficulties teachers have in setting them up, such as time constraints, hurdles encountered in their collaboration with other teachers, difficulties dialoguing with their institution, or problems related to their professional identity, e.g., [4
1.3. Motivational Effect of Interdisciplinary Approaches in Disciplines outside PE
Previous studies have shown the effects of interdisciplinary sequences on students’ motivation. Interdisciplinary teaching more closely matches students’ needs and interests than discipline-based teaching, e.g., [2
]. Students also enjoy interdisciplinary lessons more, e.g., [26
] because these lessons are more meaningful to them, e.g., [4
]. Among previous studies, only two have used motivational theory. Through SI theory, Michelsen and Sriraman [4
= 255) argued that upper secondary students’ interest in scientific disciplines can be increased when taught in an interdisciplinary way. Although the sample size used in that study was small (n
= 30) [2
], the results show that, through goal-oriented activities, interdisciplinary teaching could be a motivating learning strategy for a wider variety of students. None of these studies used a control group or compared results with those obtained in discipline-based teaching.
1.4. Motivational Effect of Interdisciplinary Approaches in PE
Three studies have examined the motivational aspects of interdisciplinary teaching in relation to PE. Only one study has been based on a validated theory of motivation. Based on the self-determination theory (SDT) framework, Papaioannou, Milosis [5
= 487) measured an increase in autonomous motivation and satisfaction and a decrease in motivation during interdisciplinary sequences. Additionally, Tammaro, D’Alessio [31
= 176) built a multidisciplinary sequence based on orienteering (aligning geography with PE), and McPhail [3
= 12) presented a practical interdisciplinary model in which health, PE, and biology were integrated. These two studies have found positive effects on student motivation. In PE classes, interdisciplinary teaching appears to provide more meaningful learning, and students feel more involved in the construction of the sequence. Interdisciplinary sequences also better match students’ interests and needs. However, none of these studies used a control group or compared their results to those of discipline-based teaching.
1.5. Study Relevance and Purpose
The purpose of this paper is to estimate the effect of PE interdisciplinary teaching on interest in upper secondary students’ SI by considering the extent to which different disciplines have been integrated. The present study is relevant for four main reasons. First, to date, there have been very few ecological studies using interdisciplinary approaches. Second, among ecological studies, few have focused on the effect of interdisciplinary approaches on students’ motivation. Third, these previous studies have not often been based on a reputable theory and have presented some limitations. Indeed, because organizing such studies is complex, there have also been a few interdisciplinary ecological studies focusing on motivation and involving more than 90 participants [4
]. Moreover, as explained above, only three studies have used motivational theory to analyze their results. PE has also been an underrepresented field in the interdisciplinary literature on secondary education (there have been only three studies) [3
]. Fourth, SI theory is relevant since SI is situated in and related to the content proposed by teachers, which allows us to compare the effect of two approaches to teaching (i.e., interdisciplinary or discipline-based approaches) in the same sample. So far, this theory has only been used to study fields other than PE. Finally, none of those other studies have used a control group or compared results to those obtained when analyzing discipline-based teaching.
To fulfill its purpose, this study reviews 3 ecological interdisciplinary projects that were conducted in PE classes (project 1: PE and the arts; projects 2 and 3: PE and the sciences) and for which the results were analyzed in relation to the extent to which disciplines were integrated. Second, the effects of these projects on students’ motivation were estimated in comparison to disciplinary sequences. More precisely, project 1 focused on the implementation of an eight-week interdisciplinary sequence that involved the arts and PE. Two classes were merged, and video projects were launched around optical illusions and gymnastic movements. A total of 2 teachers taught 45 students as a pair. The results were compared to those obtained in two monodisciplinary sequences (the arts and PE) lasting the same time, whose data were gathered among the same students during the subsequent semester. Projects two and three focused on the implementation of two five-week interdisciplinary sequences combining the sciences and PE. Instruction alternated between science and PE, and teachers shared information about the progress of the projects. The first project focused on energy expenditure (physics) in relation to running (PE), while the second project brought together the notion of the cardiovascular system and the concept of training and fitness.
One hypothesis was proposed. Based on previous studies on the motivational effects of interdisciplinary approaches, we hypothesized that students’ motivation is higher in interdisciplinary sequences than in discipline-based sequences when disciplines are well integrated.
The purpose of this paper was to estimate the effect of interdisciplinary teaching on upper secondary students’ SI by considering the extent to which disciplines were integrated. The first project mixed PE and art and revealed positive effects on the SI of interdisciplinary sequences. Indeed, on the one hand, both factors included in the Maintained-SI showed significantly positive results in favor of the interdisciplinary sequence. On the other hand, in projects two and three, in which multidisciplinary sequences were compared to disciplinary sequences (sciences and PE), only one significant difference was observed in favor of disciplinary sequences. These results can be explained for different reasons.
First, the interdisciplinary project (project 1) differed in its integration level from projects 2 and 3. Indeed, if we refer to the definitions by Darbellay [15
] and to the analysis of the supplemental material provided, we can say that in project one, the two disciplines were better integrated than in projects two and three. Project 1 integrated disciplines to provide an interdisciplinary sequence, while projects 2 and 3 represented more of a multidisciplinary approach (according to the second principle). In addition, the 2 teachers teaching in tandem in project 1 may have facilitated the integration of the disciplines. With better integration, those projects could have been vastly different, even more so because the results revealed positive effects on SI factors for both school subjects covered in the interdisciplinary sequence in project 1, i.e., those pertaining to Maintained-SI Feelings and Maintained-SI Value in the art class and for Maintained-SI Value in the PE class. A positive effect on Maintained-SI Value means that the students better grasped the meaning of the activity in each school subject [10
]. These results are in perfect agreement with previous works on interdisciplinarity [3
] that have shown that interdisciplinary teaching increases the meaningfulness of knowledge acquisition. In projects two and three, the multidisciplinary sequences, lacking a true integration of the disciplines, are not sufficient to increase the Maintained-SI Value and students’ motivation.
When examining the factor Maintained-SI Feelings, it is interesting to note that a significant effect was found in project 1 only for the arts and in favor of the interdisciplinary sequence. This result could mean that students tend to enjoy artistic disciplines more when they are paired with PE. This result is consistent with previous works on interdisciplinarity [1
] that have concluded that interdisciplinarity tends to make the classroom more enjoyable. The fact that no effect was found for PE could be explained through the work of Lentillon-Kaestner, Deriaz [36
]. More precisely, the results showed that in the canton of Vaud (where grades are not given in PE classes), teachers strongly value health and enjoyment, whereas in the canton of Jura (where grades are given but the evaluation is not certifying, as it would be in the canton of Fribourg), opinions are more heterogeneous. However, the predominant values are enjoyment, health, and motor learning. The present study was conducted in the cantons of Vaud and Fribourg in the French-speaking part of Switzerland. It is therefore logical that the average value of the factor Maintained-SI Feelings is especially high for this discipline under the control and test conditions. On the other hand, in projects two and three, we noted a significant effect of the factor Maintained-SI Feelings in favor of the PE control sequence. The regression’s results (see Table 5
) show that 50.5% of the variance is explained by the II factor stored utility value. As the mean score for this factor is relatively weak (M = 2.42), the impression of the uselessness of PE felt by the students during the multidisciplinary sequences is confirmed. These results support the idea that the integration between disciplines must be effective to positively affect students’ motivation, especially when considering that teachers strongly value enjoyment in the Fribourg and Vaud contexts.
Thus, our hypothesis is verified. Indeed, if the integration of disciplines is sufficient and the link between concepts is strong enough, interdisciplinary sequences seem to have a beneficial effect on students’ motivation. Indeed, the analysis of the SI results shows an increase in positive feelings as well as in the meaningfulness and usefulness of the task. Nevertheless, the integration must be sufficient because, in the framework of a multidisciplinary sequence, negative effects on positive feelings have been perceived in PE classes. It is therefore essential to work upstream on the integration of concepts from each discipline. According to several authors, it is essential that a strong link exists between the disciplines and, in particular, between the disciplines’ concepts, e.g., [18
]. A strong link ensures the success of quality integration. It is therefore important to consider that in the three projects, the link between PE and the other disciplines (i.e., art and science) could explain the differences obtained between the test and control sequences. Indeed, on the one hand, the lack of effects reported in projects two and three may be due to the complicated relationship between PE and scientific concepts. On the other hand, the arts and PE were well integrated into the interdisciplinary sequence developed (see Supplementary Materials
). Interdisciplinarity in project 1 thus seems to have had positive effects on students’ motivation as a result of successful integration. To avoid pseudo-interdisciplinarity, as Lenoir and Hasni [14
] defined it, it is necessary to focus on the strength of the links between the disciplines’ concepts before the sequence.
Limits and Perspectives
The findings of this study must be interpreted with caution because of some limitations.
First, our study did not allow us to consider the effects of sequence duration. In the present study, the compared control and test sequences (disciplinary vs. interdisciplinary sequences) had the same duration. However, project 1 was longer than projects 2 and 3. Further studies need to estimate the potential moderating effect of interdisciplinary sequence duration on students’ motivation or other educational outcomes (e.g., achievements).
Second, this study focused on three interdisciplinary projects including PE, the arts, and science. The research protocol implemented in this study allowed us to estimate the effects of interdisciplinary projects compared to discipline-based projects but did not allow us to estimate whether there are some disciplines that could be more relevant to interdisciplinary projects in PE. Further studies need to compare the effects of various interdisciplinary projects in PE using different disciplines.
Third, this study took place in the French-speaking part of Switzerland and included only 90 students and six teachers from two upper secondary schools. As the organization of interdisciplinary sequences is dependent on the context, it could be interesting to develop other ecological studies on interdisciplinary sequences in other schools, grade levels (primary or secondary schools), states, and countries. In addition, all six teachers were volunteers in this study and had no experience in interdisciplinary teaching. Further studies are needed to test the influence of teachers’ characteristics (e.g., perceived expertise, experience level) on the beneficial effect of interdisciplinary teaching at school.
Fourth, the SI data collection focused on one measure at a specific point in time. It could be interesting to observe students’ SI in a repeated measures design to analyze the development of SI during the sequence. It would be interesting to develop longitudinal studies over a longer time period, such as one school year, rather than during one sequence.