Theory and process for interdisciplinary undergraduate course development

By Ana M. Corbacho

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Ana M. Corbacho (biography)

How can interdisciplinary courses for undergraduates move from being intuitively designed to theoretically based? How can course design accommodate cohorts of teachers, not previously experienced in interdisciplinarity, from across a university?

Here I share how colleagues and I developed courses where teams of university faculty worked with undergraduate students to tackle interdisciplinary problems.

I first describe three useful theoretical perspectives for building an interdisciplinary undergraduate course, namely:

  1. social constructivism and situated-learning theory
  2. academic motivation
  3. interdisciplinary education from a diversity perspective.

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Developing facilitation capacities in graduate students

By Gemma Jiang and Robert Hacku

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1. Gemma Jiang (biography)
2. Robert Hacku (biography)

What does it take for graduate students to become good at facilitation? What skills do they need to learn and how can such skills best be imparted?

A facilitator is someone trained in the skill of shaping group dynamics and collective conversations. In cross-disciplinary research, thoughtful facilitation is necessary to enable effective interaction across disciplines and sectors.

We describe an apprentice facilitator program developed in a cross-disciplinary research team comprised of nine faculty and 15 graduate students from four academic institutes, representing six disciplines.

Five apprentices were selected from the graduate students on the team. The program was one semester long and took on average one hour per week.

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How informal discussion groups can maintain long-term momentum

By Kitty Wooley

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Kitty Wooley (biography)

What does it take to motivate competent professionals to show up for mission-focused conversation on their own time? What is the result? How can interaction, knowledge exchange, and knowledge transfer be achieved when some participants are meeting for the first time – especially if they’re coming from different kinds of organizations and hierarchical levels?

In this blog post, I describe the experience of Senior Fellows and Friends, a group meeting for conversational events that has kept its momentum for 17 years, over 91 meetings, and become an organic engine of opportunity for new and midcareer leaders.

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Combining and adapting frameworks for research implementation

By Kirsty Jones and Sara Bice

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1. Kirsty Jones (biography)
2. Sara Bice (biography)

How can combining frameworks help plan a research implementation process? What specific contributions can different frameworks make?

In our research with industry, we found combining three frameworks to be an effective way to get handles on a complex implementation landscape and to design the necessary steps to systematically work our way through it. The frameworks we found useful were: a logic model, a pathway to impact and the Consolidated Framework for Implementation Research, which we adapted to our context.

We provide four figures to show how we used each framework and briefly describe the benefits we derived from each of them. Although fully understanding the detail in the figures requires familiarity with the specifics of our research, we trust the figures provide insight into how each framework was used.

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How can social network analysis benefit transdisciplinary research?

By Leonhard Späth, Rea Pärli and the RUNRES project team

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1. Leonhard Späth (biography)
2. Rea Pärli (biography)
3. RUNRES Project Team (participants)

Can we observe in a more analytical way how transdisciplinarity “happens”? How useful is social network analysis in transdisciplinary work, especially for uncovering the role of relationship structures? How can transdisciplinary concepts be used to map connections between those involved in transdisciplinary research?

A very brief introduction to social network analysis

Social network analysis is the study of connections between different people or any other social entity involved in the topic under investigation (referred to as actors), as well as the patterns of those connections and the distribution of the ties among actors.

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What’s required for universities to address complex societal challenges?

By David D. Hart and Linda Silka

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1. David D. Hart (biography)
2. Linda Silka (biography)

How can universities use their broad array of expertise to help in understanding and addressing complex challenges, including pandemics, environmental degradation, poverty and climate change?

For more than a decade, we have been engaged in an innovative collaboration with more than 200 faculty from nearly 30 academic disciplines to align university research with societal needs. We conceived of this initiative as an “institutional experiment,” in which our public university in the US state of Maine served as the “laboratory.”

Given Maine’s priorities and our collective expertise, we focused these problem-solving efforts on the challenge of sustainable development, which requires a dual focus on improving human well-being and protecting the environment.

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Enabling divergent and convergent thinking in cross-disciplinary graduate students

By Gemma Jiang

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Gemma Jiang (biography)

How can we enable graduate students to think in ways that open new possibilities, as well as to make good decisions based on diverse cross-disciplinary insights?

Here I describe how we have embedded 14 graduate students in a research team with nine faculty from four academic institutes, representing six disciplines (for simplicity only three disciplines – engineering, economics, and anthropology – are considered here). Our research addresses the circular economy. I have developed a three-step model (summarised in the figure below) to operationalize the “divergence-convergence diamond,” which is key to our teaching method.

The “divergence – convergence diamond” is widely used in design thinking. The divergent mode helps open new possibilities while the convergent mode helps evaluate what you have and make decisions.

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Five organizational features for successful interdisciplinary research

By Jessica Blythe and Chris Cvitanovic

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1. Jessica Blythe (biography)
2. Chris Cvitanovic (biography)

How can significant challenges associated with doing interdisciplinary research be overcome? What are the best ways to build institutional capacity and structures that support interdisciplinary research?

We have identified five key organizational features that enable successful interdisciplinary research. These are based on an evaluation of the Centre for Marine Socioecology in Tasmania, Australia, which brings together disciplinary expertise in physics, law, economics, biology, sociology and governance. We obtained perspectives across all disciplines and career stages from PhD students to the leadership team.

The five organizational features, also shown in the figure below, are:

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A successful model of integration in an art-science project

By Diaa Ahmed Mohamed Ahmedien

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Diaa Ahmed Mohamed Ahmedien (biography)

How can new-media art-science projects move beyond raising public awareness of science to achieve a high level of layperson involvement in a scientific process? How can such projects use two-path integration:

  1. across multiple academic disciplines, and
  2. including the participation of laypeople?

In 2017, I developed an interactive game, using a holographic scene, where participants had to interact physically with their neural activities to complete the required processes and tasks (see the figure immediately below). A participant was attached to EEG (electroencephalography) monitoring and then, when standing at a table that had a set of holographic plates laid out upon it, they had to puzzle-out a hologram of a toy.

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Four lessons for operating in a different cultural environment

By Nithya Ramachandran

author_nithya-ramachandran
Nithya Ramachandran (biography)

What does it take to operate successfully in a university located in a different culture?

I am an Indian academician working in the Middle-East, specifically in the Sultanate of Oman and share four lessons about teaching and working in a different cultural context. Although the specifics will vary depending on the culture, the general lessons are likely to be more widely applicable.

The four general lessons are:

  1. Make the most of mentoring
  2. Be open and responsive to feedback
  3. Reinforce positive aspects of student behaviours and find ways to counteract the negative
  4. Enjoy the diversity.

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Six lessons from students about transdisciplinary learning

By Irina Dallo, Jan Freihardt and Juanita von Rothkirch

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1. Irina Dallo (biography)
2. Jan Freihardt (biography)
3. Juanita von Rothkirch (biography)

What is an effective way of providing students with practical experience in stakeholder engagement? How can students learn to communicate and engage with community members on a transdisciplinary project, as well as how to create a space for those community members to reflect on their daily lives through interactions and discussions with the student outsiders? What makes it possible for students to broaden their horizons and to acquire new competences and skills?

We present our reflections on how the Winter School 2020 “Science meets Practice” run by ETH Zürich successfully contributed to our transdisciplinary learning process. We suggest there are six key lessons for those who want to design a successful course.

Lesson 1: A diverse and motivated group

A key element in fostering the transdisciplinary learning process was the diversity of the participant cohort. Not only were we from a variety of different disciplines and at different career stages, but we were also from different countries with different cultures. This variety enabled us to reflect about and approach the transdisciplinary process from different angles.

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How librarians contribute to interdisciplinary research teams

By Kelly Miller and Kineret Ben-Knaan

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1. Kelly Miller (biography)
2. Kineret Ben-Knaan (biography)

What can librarians contribute to interdisciplinary research teams working on complex problems? We suggest that librarians add value in the following three ways:

  1. finding and accessing information resources across disciplines
  2. connecting teams to experts and resources, and
  3. improving collaboration and communication strategies.

Our experience comes from being part of the University of Miami’s Laboratory for Integrative Knowledge initiative, also known as U-LINK, which aims to address the world’s most compelling problems through interdisciplinary inquiry. From 2018-2020, teams of scholars from multiple disciplines have received funding to pursue solutions to global challenges.

Librarians have been embedded in each of the teams.

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