Designing and Implementing Interdisciplinary Undergraduate Subjects

Victoria MILLAR
The University of Melbourne, Australia
vmillar@unimelb.edu.au

Maurice TOSCANO
The University of Melbourne, Australia
m.toscano@unimelb.edu.au

Chi BAIK
The University of Melbourne, Australia
cbaik@unimelb.edu.au

Lachlan DOUGHNEY
The University of Melbourne, Australia
lachlan.doughney@unimelb.edu.au

Abstract

In recent years, there has been a growth in the number of “interdisciplinary” programs as universities showcase their capacity to prepare a new generation of thinkers and professionals. Universities are increasingly pursuing research and teaching that allows them to tackle highly complex problems, like global climate change and the spread of infectious diseases, that are difficult to address adequately with the tools of any single discipline.

The rapidly increasing number of interdisciplinary programs is often accompanied by concerns about their quality and confusion around what precisely interdisciplinarity entails. While there has been much written and researched in the areas of defining and investigating the emergence and manifestation of interdisciplinarity in its different forms (see for example Klein 1990), such discussions are spread across a broad range of literature resulting in a diffusion of the discourse. This is in part due to the varying nature of interdisciplinarity and the many ways and stages that it can be included within curriculum. While there are common methodological and epistemological issues created in moving across disciplinary boundaries, practical advice on what type of interdisciplinarity best suits a particular purpose (ie addressing climate change or biological applications of physics) is difficult to find. Based on interviews with academics and students involved in successful interdisciplinary subjects, alongside an analysis of curriculum and assessment documents, this project provides a critical analysis of how interdisciplinary curricula are designed and implemented.

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