Tag Archives: interdisciplinary

Challenges and benefits of interdisciplinary teaching in Higher Education (2014)

Sian Davies-Vollum, Stephen Dobson, Kaushik Pandya & Alexandra Savage

Interdisciplinary teaching and learning occurs when practitioners from traditional disciplines join together to work on a common question. Such interaction has been shown to promote constructivist learning, problem solving and innovative thinking. An interdisciplinary approach embodies a constructivist approach in that it creates new understanding and insights that are greater than the sum of disciplinary knowledge (Pharo et al. 2012), enabling the crossing of disciplinary boundaries whilst ‘filling in’ space between them. The practice of interdisciplinarity has also gained increasing attention for its ability to address complex, real world issues, such as climate change, which may not be effectively tackled using traditional disciplinary approaches (Devlin and Davies, 2007; Spelt, 2009). Despite these clear advantages, interdisciplinary teaching and learning has not been embraced in Higher Education and interdisciplinary courses are not common. The established university model of traditional disciplinary specialization favours a disciplinary ‘silo’ approach and does not readily support interdisciplinary. To analyze how an interdisciplinary approach impacts teaching and learning we took a twofold approach. Firstly we conducted a SWOT analysis for our own inherently interdisciplinary subjects of Geography and Business, considering the impact of interdisciplinarity on teachers, learners and institutions. Secondly, we looked at the perceived challenges and benefits of adopting an interdisciplinary approach for a variety of disciplines taught at SHU. Major benefits of interdisciplinarity highlighted by the study included creation of diverse teaching and learning communities, the opportunity to develop flexible and reflexive courses and the development of complex and innovative thinking skills. Major challenges highlighted included the lack of infrastructure and support within universities, a perception that our interdisciplinary courses are valued less than traditional ones and that teachers and learners may lack the broad background required. Future studies might concentrate on student perceptions of the benefits and challenges of interdisciplinarity within the disciplines of Geography and Business.


DAVIES, M. and DEVLIN, M. (2007) Interdisciplinary higher education: Implications for teaching and learning, University of Melbourne Center for the Study of Higher Education. Last accessed May 4th 2013 at http://www.cshe.unimelb.edu.au/.

PHARO, E.J., DAVISON, A., WARR, K., NURSEY-BRAY, M., BESWICK, K., WAPSTRA, E. AND JONES, C (2012) Can teacher collaboration overcome barriers to interdisciplinary learning in a disciplinary universe? A case study using climate change, Teaching in Higher Education 17 (5) 497-507.

SPELT, E.J.H., BIEMANS, H.J.A., TOBI, H., LUNING, P.A. and MULDER, M. (2009) Teaching and learning in interdisciplinary higher education: a systematic review, Education Psychology Reviews 21 365-378.

2012 Interdisciplinary student projects: enhancing students’ research projects

Christine Le Maitre, D Smith, J Langley, E Lockley, J Westerman, K Vernon-Parry, S Choppin, J Wheat and F Caparrelli

Interdisciplinary working and thinking practices are an increasingly important attribute essential in many work places and disciplines. However, the majority of our courses do not bridge across disciplines or embed the skills required to communicate with other disciplines. 

The Engineering for Life Shadow executive as part of a program to encouraging multidisciplinary work connived a program of student based research projects. Applications were invited from all areas of the University to support student projects which involved more than one department or research centre. An initial networking lunch to establish new connections between staff members across the University was held resulting in a number of applications for funded projects. Projects had to involve academics/students from at least two disciplines/departments within the project team. Each project was supported with additional funding to enable purchase of additional items that would not normally be possible from departmental budgets aimed to enhance the student projects. In this initial study 5 interdisciplinary student projects were funded with involvement from across the University.

In order to enhance the students experience and employability as a result of undertaking the interdisciplinary projects the students will  present their work within a mini student conference. This will enable further dissemination of their work and improving communication skills and enhancing their prospects within the ever challenging work environments. 

This workshop will report and reflect on the experiences of these projects and aim to promote discussion of continuation of the scheme and expansion to enable more students to benefit from the working practices and facilities across departments and faculties. Including discussions of further student projects, and an the establishment of an interdisciplinary student club.

C3 – (FU35) 14.20