November 19, 2017

Trans–disciplinary education

This first blog coincides with my arrival in Melbourne as WIHEA Visiting Educator and my first workshop with the Monash STEM Education Group on bonding theatre and science. This event continues an ongoing collaboration between Warwick and Monash in the area of interdisciplinary education and this is enabled by a technology-enhanced classroom known as the 'International Portal'. Our colleagues have documented, evaluated and theorised this work as Portal Pedagogy. The material conditions for this collaboration stem from two long-term projects: a) Open-Space Learning and b) the Warwick-Monash Alliance. I will be writing about each of these in subsequent blogs, but first let me begin by explaining what is meant by the term 'transdisciplinarity' (TD) and trans-disciplinary education specifically.

For Baz Kershaw, 'the conventional binaries of bodies-technologies, cultures-disciplines and arts-sciences may be confounded' (2009:16) through transdisciplinarity (TD). For Katri Huutoniemi, there is 'an erosion of the distinction between academic and non-academic contexts of research' (2010: 315) within TD. For Julie Thompson Klein, there are 'four major trendlines' that constitute TD: a) 'the contemporary version of the historical quest for systematic integration of knowledge... b) a label for knowledge formations imbued with a critical imperative, fostering new theoretical paradigms... c) overarching synthetic paradigms... that transcend the narrow scope of disciplinary worldviews... d) trans-sector problem solving'; in short, TD is 'not just transcendent but transgressive' (2010: 25).

So what does this mean for students, especially within universities that continue to identify as 'disciplinary', 'subject-specific' or even 'specialist'? It means three things: firstly, while students' training in disciplinary methodologies by expert researchers remains an asset, it can prevent them from seeing a wider application of those methods; secondly, the learners' capacity to tackle societal or environmental problems may be limited by their absorption in subject-specific contexts; and thirdly, they may simply graduate without understanding what to do with their specialist knowledge. Practice is therefore a particular interest of mine, which I have recently blogged about for the Higher Education Academy.

These issues are the future problems of disciplinarity within universities, as we wrestle to understand what our insitutions are for, and how they serve the public good. A trans-disciplinary education, where the learner has access to all available knowledges, implies a future where graduates are not only flexible but also resilient, where they transcend their degree subjects through transgressive learning and student-led practice.

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