Decoding the Interdisciplines: Helping Teachers & Learners Discover Unfamiliar Ways of Thinking

Project Details

Description

The Principal’s Teaching Award Scheme
SMALL PROJECT GRANTS

Decoding the Interdisciplines: Helping Teachers & Learners Discover
Unfamiliar Ways of Thinking

University of Edinburgh students and staff are encouraged to pursue
interdisciplinarity. Crossing disciplines, however, is hampered by significant barriers,
so much so that interdisciplinary learning and teaching is very rare. How do we move
into uncharted territory wherein an unfamiliar vocabulary and uncustomary methods
and tools are taken for granted? Genuine interdisciplinary can take many decades to
foster. How can we even begin to support interdisciplinary within a 20 Credit course?
We aim to answer the perennial question, ‘whither interdisciplinarity’?

Interdisciplinarity is constantly encouraged, but seldom practiced in our teaching and
learning. For example, CAHSS students may take courses from a vast range of
disciplines. Students in this ancient Scottish approach (Davie 1986), however, are
expected to, somehow, synthesise different disciplines themselves. While we insist
that our students be conduits of interdisciplinarity, this insistence seldom extends to
mono-disciplinarians in our Subject Areas (Lindvig, Lyall, Meagher 2017).
Edinburgh’s generalism doesn’t actively foster interdisciplinarity since it doesn’t
provide students with any demonstration of consilience.

We propose to modify Middendorf and Pace’s (2004) Decoding the Disciplines
approach (DtD) to address this question: DtD ‘starts by asking, NOT, what
information the student needs, but what mental process does the expert use? And
how we can uncover that mental process and make it available to students?’ As a
method, DtD has been very successful at helping disciplinary experts “unpack” their
tacit knowledge and make it intelligible to students.

We will modify DtD to help experts in different disciplines overcome bottlenecks
facing interdisciplinary teachers and learners. We will hack and retool DtD to help
different disciplines ‘unpack’ their methods and make them intelligible to each other.
As a case study, we will form a mixed group of art and anthropology staff and
postgraduates. We will begin by collectively learning the DtD method. We will subject
the DtD method to a hackathon with the aim of retooling it to support genuinely
interdisciplinary learning and teaching.

We will then work with common “materials” selected from the University Art
Collection and the Social Anthropology Ethnographic Collection (collectively, our
Atelier for this project). We will approach our Atelier from our disciplinary
perspectives before deploying our retooled DtD method to unpack, share, combine
and apply our knowledges.

Data analysis

Key to the project is developing and refining a retooled DtD method so that it can be
shared with any discipline that wishes to engage in learning and teaching with
another. Participants will use Schön's (1987) reflection-in-action method to generate
qualitative data.

This qualitative data will be analysed by a PhD student in order to co-author a paper
on the project with Mulholland, McClanahan-Simmons, Baxstrom and Davies. The
PhD student will shadow the project, observing from both an ethnographic
perspective and as an artistic researcher.

Communication
The team will co-author a paper and produce a series of short videos that review,
revise and share the retooled DtD method. We will present a summary, with video on
https://www.teaching-matters-blog.ed.ac.uk and develop the full paper for
submission to one of the DtD Special Interest Group panels within ISSoTL 2021
issotl.com/decoding-the-disciplines/

References:

Davie, G. E. (1986). The Crisis of the Democratic Intellect: The Problem of Generalism and Specialisation in Twentieth-Century Scotland.
Edinburgh: Polygon.
Lindvig, K, Lyall, C & Meagher, LR (2017), 'Creating Interdisciplinary Education within Monodisciplinary Structures: The Art of Managing
Interstitiality', Studies in Higher Education, pp. 1-14.
Middendorf, J. and D. Pace (2004). Decoding the Disciplines: A model for helping students learn disciplinary ways of thinking. New Directions for
Teaching and Learning, 2004(98), pp.1–12.
Schön, D. (1987) Educating the Reflective Practitioner, San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Verpoorten, Dominique et al., (2017). Decoding the Disciplines – A pilot study at the University of Liège (Belgium).

Layman's description

University of Edinburgh students and staff are encouraged to pursue
interdisciplinarity. Crossing disciplines, however, is hampered by significant barriers,
so much so that interdisciplinary learning and teaching is very rare. How do we move
into uncharted territory wherein an unfamiliar vocabulary and uncustomary methods
and tools are taken for granted? Genuine interdisciplinary can take many decades to
foster. How can we even begin to support interdisciplinary within a 20 Credit course?
We aim to answer the perennial question, ‘whither interdisciplinarity’?

Interdisciplinarity is constantly encouraged, but seldom practiced in our teaching and
learning. For example, CAHSS students may take courses from a vast range of
disciplines. Students in this ancient Scottish approach (Davie 1986), however, are
expected to, somehow, synthesise different disciplines themselves. While we insist
that our students be conduits of interdisciplinarity, this insistence seldom extends to
mono-disciplinarians in our Subject Areas (Lindvig, Lyall, Meagher 2017).
Edinburgh’s generalism doesn’t actively foster interdisciplinarity since it doesn’t
provide students with any demonstration of consilience.

We propose to modify Middendorf and Pace’s (2004) Decoding the Disciplines
approach (DtD) to address this question: DtD ‘starts by asking, NOT, what
information the student needs, but what mental process does the expert use? And
how we can uncover that mental process and make it available to students?’ As a
method, DtD has been very successful at helping disciplinary experts “unpack” their
tacit knowledge and make it intelligible to students.
Short titleDecoding the Interdisciplines
AcronymDtID
StatusNot started

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