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School of the Built Environment
Faculty of Technology, Design and Environment
This paper reports the findings of six focus groups on developing skills for interdisciplinary collaboration in Higher Education (HE), and our literature view. This work is associated with a Teaching Innovation Project that received funding from the authors’ institution. This project aims to develop a systemic pedagogy for facilitating interdisciplinary collaboration, which is deemed critical for the delivery of Smart Cities, and to test and disseminate this pedagogy. The focus groups aimed to critically evaluate the current thinking and practice on inter-disciplinary collaboration from a different standpoint. The perceived wisdom that solely creating opportunities for interdisciplinary collaboration, e.g. live projects, as part of the curriculum, will develop practitioners who can collaborate across disciplinary boundaries, was challenged.
The use of group work for developing skills for collaboration is an established and well-researched pedagogical approach. However, far less attention has been given to the skills for interdisciplinary collaboration (Park & Mills 2014). Working in interdisciplinary teams presents a unique set of challenges. The transferable skills required to do this are increasingly recognised as crucial to respond to the complex sustainability challenges of the 21st Century (Marinova & McGrath 2004, Defila & Di Giulio, 2015), including the delivery of Smart Cities. Simply putting students in interdisciplinary teams is not sufficient to develop these skills (Ritcher 2009). Small-scale interventions and exploratory projects rather than embedded programmatic approaches, are needed (Klein & Schneider, 2010). Teaching strategies that promote the skills required for interdisciplinary collaboration should be developed (Ritcher et al 2009). We argue that learning and teaching for inter-disciplinary collaboration should place more emphasis on: shared (across disciplines) modules or lectures based on case or problem-based learning; and actively developing students’ understanding of the dynamics of teams and personal relationships, and behaviours within teams; and their ability to effectively function in interdisciplinary teams.