The theme of the Education Fair of 2018 was Interdisciplinarity: Building Bridges. Interdisciplinarity is one of the key aims of the Utrecht Young Academy and so we fulfilled a special role during the fair: Besides having a place on the Information Market, we organised a course on Interdisciplinary Education: How to make Interdisciplinary learning happen?
How to make Interdisciplinary Teaching happen?
The workshop started with a short introduction to threshold concepts and troublesome knowledge. While at Durham University, João came into contact with the idea that, in each discipline, there exist significant “threshold concepts” that lead to new and previously inaccessible ways of thinking about something. A threshold concept represents, thus, a transformed way of viewing something—without this, the learner finds it difficult to progress in the curriculum.
During the past few meetings of the interdisciplinary teaching and learning group of the Utrecht Young Academy, its members discussed the possibility of using these threshold concepts as the basis to develop a truly interdisciplinary curriculum. They came to the conclusion that these concepts have the potential to travel between disciplines. Even though their meaning, reach, and operational value differ between disciplines, they have the potential to form the backbone of interdisciplinary studies—precisely because they don’t mean the same thing for everyone.
João and Rianka then asked the participants to consider what concepts they considered to be fundamental to a grasp of their subject, and which concepts students in their disciplines typically find difficult to grasp. Would we agree what students must learn in our disciplines? What concepts are threshold concepts in our disciplines, and which have the potential to travel across the disciplines and thereby form the backbone of an interdisciplinary curriculum?
We think it is fair to say that the workshop was a great success, and that we wished we had had more time to continue the interesting group discussion on these matters. João and Rianka have been inspired by the contributions of the participants and have established new contacts within the university. Our plans for the future include organizing a followup meeting on traveling threshold concepts and on designing interdisciplinary teaching and learning around these concepts.