Joined up thinking – Carl Gombrich #educationfest (@carlgomb)

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The word interdisciplinarity permeates throughout higher education and industry, but many school students have never heard the word. So what does it mean?

The audience characterised it as breaking down arbitrary subject boundaries and meding the gap between arts and sciences. To Gombrich it is linking the subjects together in interesting ways. ;

He is currently setting up and Arts and Sciences degree at UCL, based on the liberal arts tradition of the US but also working on a variety of ;Interdisciplinarity modules. In the UK we often have a focus on the worth of discrete subject disciplines. At present we have two trends in education, returning to traditional subjects with known titles on the one hand, and a desire for broader curricula on the other.

Student centered learning often looks to break down barriers, but compartments fo categorising learning are important, and a feature of many successful learners. There is something deep about this, and students and teachers alike often draw comparasons and links between subjects whilst acknowledging those different categories. For example in a Chemistry lessons it might often be heard ‘we did this in Physics’.

Increasingly the problems we are trying to solve involve an interdisciplinary approach. Engineers need to understand the communities in which their creations are introduced, computer programmers need to understand narrative to create compelling games.. the examples are numerous.

However, we do need some ‘common core’. if each teacher is given autonomy to teach from their own ID perspective how will we know what students have when they get to University. Mental shelving also gets difficult, and students can end up just learning the way their teacher thinks.

However, there are established approaches to teaching this. The IB of ‘theory of knowledge’, research methods courses at HE; these courses do not constitute dumbing down but are academically rigorous, yet broad and could supplement existing subjects strongly.

He quoted a Professor from Oxford on the ‘lightness’ of the subject of English Literarure, characterising it as ‘chatter’. His point? What constitutes knowledge and learning changes, and we need to change curricula with these changes.

In the questions we discussed the idea of process, with one very astute member of the audience pointing out that as well as research methods we also have execution methods, and these needs to be learned as well.In these days of networked access to information and PLNs it is easy to see the hge benefits of self organised learning and advocate this as an educational paradigm. However, most of the people doing this already have a strong grounding in content, perhaps instead we should be seeing process and knowledge as more intertwined?

Just as Claxton described earlier, this debate is often characterised as being a dichtomoy between subjects and content, and interdiscipliary approaches and process. It is much more nuanced that that, how can you draw links between subjects if the subjects do not exist? However we do need to examine how our concepts of ‘common core’ changes, Gombrich floated the idea that perhaps ‘Human Behaviour’ could be a core subject… ;

Related posts:

Debt education - Martin Lewis #educationfest
When China rules the world - Martin Jacques
Free schools and freeing minds - Toby Young #educationfest
 

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