Welcome to the October issue of Teaching Matters: Interdisciplinarity

world-intro photo
Credit: Pixabay, hairmann, CC0

The September theme on student engagement was true to its title, engaging over 5000 student and staff readers – a new milestone for Teaching Matters’ viewing figures! As I was editing the great contributions for the issue, it became increasingly clear that so many of the student engagement initiatives exhibited two strong commonalities: they were often interdisciplinary and experiential in nature. It seemed to me that these two pedagogical characteristics are playing an important role in increasing student engagement and creating authentic learning experiences, perhaps without us explicitly designing them into our work.

This month’s theme – interdisciplinarity – celebrates teaching practices across the University that are actively and explicitly engaging in interdisciplinary teaching and learning. An interdisciplinary approach combines methods, knowledge domains and practices of two or more academic disciplines to address a particular issue. These issues are often complex, slippery and of immediate relevance to the ‘real’ world, such as sustainability, global health models, and big data. The emphasis is on making connections: organisationally (between staff and schools), relationally (between students form different perspectives and disciplines) and intellectually (between different concepts and epistemologies).

From a pedagogical perspective, interdisciplinary curricula need to be carefully designed to patch together different disciplines and ways of knowing, rather than leaving students to do the bridging of the disciplines themselves, which is more common in a multi-disciplinary curriculum. However, traditional University infrastructure can pose challenges in supporting an interdisciplinarity approach, including organisational issues, ‘silo’ mentalities, and the lack of a coherent sense of belonging for the students.

This month’s blog posts offer some reflections, conversations and examples of practice where these challenges are being addressed. Look out for blog posts from:

  •  Velda McCune, Senior Lecturer at IAD, explaining what a ‘wicked problem’ is, and how a project team is conducting research on how to prepare students to face these ‘wicked problems’.
  •  James Stewart, Research Fellow and Lecturer in the School of Social and Political Science, describing how students use the city and University as a “Living Lab” to develop their research and innovation skills.
  • Kevin Meier, a former MSc Carbon Management student, reflecting on how an interdisciplinary Masters programme helped him secure a job in the renewable energy industry.

Also this month….

Spotlight on Joint Degrees

In the third blog post exploring LLC’s investigation into joint degrees, Jackie Barnhart, Student and Academic Services Manager for LLC, explores the challenges of negotiating ‘best practice’ for joint degree programmes.

Mini-Series: Lecture Recording

This month we continue with the second month of the Lecture Recording mini-series. We present findings from Principal’s Teaching Award Scheme-funded projects, looking specifically into the effects of lecture recording around different Schools, including Engineering, Education and Mathematics.

We are also looking forward to next month’s Teaching Matters issue, which will feature blog posts written only by University of Edinburgh students!

Happy reading!

Jenny Scoles

Dr Jenny Scoles is the editor of Teaching Matters. She is an Academic Developer (Learning and Teaching Enhancement) in the Institute for Academic Development, and provides support for University course and programme design. Her interests include student engagement, professional learning and sociomaterial methodologies.

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