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March 27, 2023

Is interdisciplinarity learnable in 10 weeks?

A Student - Staff co-analysis from IATL’s Creating Digital Futures module

by Anil Dhariwal, Isabel Fischer, Jamal Lawal, Matthew Leslie, Claire Rocks, Shwetha Roy, Bryon Wandera, and Devon Williams

We created this blog collectively in 1h as part of our last Creating Digital Futures workshop. In the interest of time, instead of using Harvard Referencing we entered Weblinks.

In this blog we look back at a 10-week module which brought together students from different fields for the collaborative development of a digital product, which we pitched to the Warwick #Creative Futures Incubator (https://warwickinnovationdistrict.com/creative-futures-incubator-application/). The purpose of the blog is to reflect on whether students can effectively learn and apply the fundamentals of interdisciplinarity, and if 10 weeks is a suitable amount of time for the benefits of interdisciplinarity to take effect.

3 min read

Source: DALLE.E 2 by OpenAI - retrieved 15/3/23 using these prompts: ‘Interdisciplinarity Creating Digital Futures’

Source: DALLE.E 2 by OpenAI - retrieved 15/3/23 using these prompts: ‘Interdisciplinarity Creating Digital Futures’

From an educator-side our research has shown that a key pedagogical challenge is to encourage students to move beyond scanning of information towards critical engagement and action (Preuss, Fischer, Luiz, 2023, see: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/hequ.12429). Payne (1999, p.173) emphasises the potential of interdisciplinarity to enhance ‘democratisation of knowledge construction processes in society’ with Klein (2000, p.18) explaining that ‘Interdisciplinary knowledge strengthens connections between disciplines and in that process it weakens the division of labour in disciplines, exposes gaps, stimulates cross fertilisation and creates new fields of focus for knowledge inquiry’.

Problem based learning is often thought of as a pedagogical approach that can facilitate interdisciplinary learning. Adopting this approach, Creating Digital Futures asked students to create a product or service at the intersection of Digital Technology, Creativity and the Global Sustainable Development Goals. Focussing first on identifying a problem using Design Thinking was intended to encourage students to come out of their disciplinary boundaries to search for solutions. As research has shown that we cannot take for granted that interdisciplinary learning will take place, and that it is necessary to address issues of interdisciplinary learning specifically (Stentoft et al, 2017, https://doi.org/10.1177/1469787417693510), in Creating Digital Futures we scaffolded the interdisciplinary learning by providing 10 weekly taught sessions covering topics such as working in interdisciplinary teams, design thinking, ethical frameworks, storytelling with data and presentation skills.

A ChatGPT (2023) prompt tells us: ‘Interdisciplinarity has become a buzzword in academia, with many universities and institutions promoting collaborative learning and research. But can students truly learn the skills and mindset needed for interdisciplinary work in just 10 weeks? In this blog, we explore [if] it is possible to truly break down the boundaries between disciplines and instil a collaborative mindset in a matter of weeks.’ (ChatGPT, 2023a)

We - the students - found that our interdisciplinary module has a number of benefits, including:

  • We were able to develop real world skills such as: critical thinking; communication; collaboration and the ability to synthesise information (Anil, Econ)
  • Interdisciplinarity gives the opportunity to see areas that you may lack in due to your subject background and allows you to learn and improve them with the help of others with different perspectives (Byron, Biomed)
  • Providing a better understanding of the utility of one’s own skills from their field in the context of the real world (Devon, Comp Sci)
  • Really highlights the inherent interdisciplinarity of traditional subjects (Jamal, PPE)
  • The helpfulness of application of theory in a practical matter, experiencing, growing and learning from and with others (Matthew, WBS)
  • Allows you to produce an impactful and cohesive piece of work that brings together the ideas from different disciplines (Shwetha, Econ).

In conclusion, students have found many aspects of the module rewarding, and have also reflected that it was a good preparation in anticipation of embracing interdisciplinarity in the workplace. A problem based approach seems to be good to foster interdisciplinary learning in just 10 weeks. More importantly though, students appreciated having been taught by members from five different departments. The module convenors - Claire Rocks (Computer Science) and Isabel Fischer (WBS) - would therefore like to thank Elke Thonnes (Stats) and Robert O’Toole (Arts) as well as Rachel Davis, Clare Green and Holly Smeeton (Warwick’s Creative Futures Incubator / Warwick Entreprise) for making time to take this cohort of IATL students on a journey of interdisciplinary discovery.

ChatGPT prompt to help with the initial thoughts on the blog:

ChatGPT 2023 prompt used on 15/3/23: ‘Is interdisciplinarity learnable in 10 weeks, write a short intro to hook readers in for a blog with this title with an interesting question’.


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