By Tanja Golja and Dena Fam
In their 2013 report on the significance of transdisciplinary approaches to advance scientific discovery and address formidable societal challenges (PDF 700KB), the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (AAAS) put out a call to “expand education paradigms to model transdisciplinary approaches” (p. xiii). Ought we be considering whether transdisciplinary approaches might reconfigure education paradigms, and if so, why?
As a case in point, most Australian universities offer professional learning opportunities for academics involved in coursework teaching and research supervision (e.g. a Graduate Certificate in higher education learning and teaching). Typically, such formal scholarly programs introduce teaching academics to current educational principles, practices and research in higher education.
However, these and similar academic programs have been slow to respond to the increasing interest in transdisciplinary education and research. For example, there are few institutions internationally, (and nowhere nationally) that provide formal award courses for academics seeking to learn how to teach, design and research transdisciplinary programs at the undergraduate, postgraduate or PhD level.
Where transdisciplinary forums are available to academics, they seem to be limited to short ‘train the trainer’ workshops on particular aspects of transdisciplinary team science rather than professional learning initiatives that take a scholarly approach to developing transdisciplinary practices in education and/or research. The AAAS challenges us to consider whether we need to rethink such professional learning programs in light of transdisciplinary practices, research and initiatives in operation.
At our institution (University of Technology Sydney), we are tackling that challenge squarely as we implement our Innovation and Creative Intelligence (ICI) strategy (PDF 4MB) to transform our approach to teaching and learning, research and industry engagement. Whilst designing new degree courses and subjects that take a transdisciplinary approach (e.g. Bachelor of Creative Intelligence and Innovation, Master of Data Science and Innovation, open electives, a new suite of undergraduate and postgraduate degrees being offered in 2017), we recognise the need to build and grow teaching capacity and capability in this field, and prepare our faculty members with the relevant knowledge, skills, connections and resources (p. 4).
Here, strategic goals and key activities are tuned to considering how academics learn transdisciplinary practices – ways of thinking, acting and being in the world – to support their students’ learning. Furthermore, to that purpose we are developing a Graduate Certificate in Transdisciplinary Learning in Higher Education that explores the education paradigm needed and how we design a developmental program which models transdisciplinary approaches.
We are particularly interested in starting a global conversation and identifying opportunities for potential collaboration. What education programs, pedagogical techniques and methods already exist for transdisciplinary academics? Can we learn from high profile research institutes such as TD-net (Switzerland), Leuphana University (Germany) and Arizona State University (US), and are there transdisciplinary practices we could adapt to support education initiatives?
Biography: Tanja Golja, PhD., is a researcher in design education and educational design at the University of Technology Sydney. She has a special interest in understanding the design of theoretically sound transdisciplinary environments in a range of contexts. She is currently leading and developing the transdisciplinary educational design of a suite of cutting-edge programs (including the Bachelor of Creative Intelligence and Innovation, and the Master of Data Science and Innovation), in collaboration with industry and multi-disciplinary academic teams.
Biography: Dena Fam, PhD., is a Research Principal and Chancellor’s Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Institute for Sustainable Futures, University of Technology Sydney. Her consulting and research experience has spanned socio-cultural (learning for sustainability), institutional (policy analysis) and technological aspects of water and sewage management with a particular interest in the process of fostering sustainable futures through cross disciplinary and cross sectoral collaboration and inquiry.