Executive Summary

This project will implement the recommendations of the `interdisciplinary’ strand of the Warwick part of the King’s Warwick Project, lead by Karen O’Brien, with the participation of Manus Conaghan and Paul Prescott. The project conducted extensive research into student, staff and employer attitudes towards `interdisciplinarity’ and `multidisciplinarity’ in the undergraduate curriculum, and the opportunities present within existing institutional structures for students to gain access to knowledges and teaching methodologies outside their core subject(s). The project’s focus was university-wide, including the Medical School and the Business School, and it explored these questions in a comparative framework with the kinds of approaches to curriculum broadening taken elsewhere in the UK (notably LSE and Aberdeen) and internationally (notably UCLA, Melbourne, Utrecht).

The Project also, speculatively, invited staff with particular research interests in areas which cross disciplines (and are often areas that intersect with new or emerging domains of research) to put together proposals for cross-disciplinary, `interdisciplinary’ modules. A key component of these proposals (and one that would be developed as part of this project) was a requirement that these modules should incorporate innovative strategies for teaching and assessment – not least because a key finding of this project was that students are better able to think outside of their disciplinary framework if teaching and assessment delivery also challenge and stretch their way of thinking. Modules such as Paul Prescott’s `Faust’ module and Paul Raffield’s `Shakespeare and the Law’ provide working models for this combination of innovative content and delivery.

What the Project would achieve

The project identified subjects areas and institutional mechanisms to be explored with a view to creating options, within current curricula, for students to choose appropriately weighted and assessed modules. At this stage, we envisage creating a `suite’ of initial module offerings, to be centred in IATL, from 2011-12, aimed at honours-year students. Issues such as CATS, accreditation, resourcing of future delivery and many other technical matters need careful exploration, and consultation, along with the (very positive) possibility of synchronising with WMS’s `Special Study’ modules.

An important criterion for some of the modules would also be that they promote closer liaison between undergraduate teaching and some of the cutting-edge research that takes place at Warwick. The inspiration for many of the specimen modules `The Brain in the West’, `Green Planet’, `Sleep and Society’, `Visualising the Body, etc) came directly from research-council or IAS-funded research projects. There is a place, we felt, for sharing some of the enthusiasm and interest generated by these kinds of projects with undergraduates. Other modules might showcase and engage students with similarly new research in pedagogical practice (`Performance Cartographies’, `Identity: a Transdisciplinary approach’).

We envisage soliciting modules (including approaching those who developed the KWP modules) via both direct approach and via an open call (in term 2) to interested academic staff.

Benefits to Students

The benefit to students opting for these modules will be, as the research has shown, that they not only gain insight into other forms and modes of knowledge, but that they are better able to articulate what is peculiar and important to their own disciplines. Employers value, not so much interdisciplinarity in itself, but students’ capacity to articulate what they know and can do, along with the breadth of perspective and capacity for problem-solving that this breadth can bring.

How many students will the project reach?

This project is likely initially to reach only a fraction of the university undergraduate population initially, but an important principle would be that, like Warwick Advantage, the URSS etc, it is an open offer available to all. In the case of PSRB-regulated degrees, we will have to work to ensure that this offer really is extended to these students. And ultimately, the aspiration would be that the project would create a large-uptake offering unique to Warwick to which our undergraduates would know they are entitled.