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The Theory of Interdisciplinarity: An Introduction for Educators – University of Copenhagen

9 June 2017

The Theory of Interdisciplinarity: An Introduction for Educators

By Mads Goddiksen, 2017

Peer reviewed paper

The aim of interdisciplinary practice is generally to solve interdisciplinary problems. An important aim for interdisciplinary teaching is therefore to prepare students for the practice of solving interdisciplinary problems. When considering course contents and methods for teaching and evaluation in interdisciplinary courses, it is therefore valuable to have some understanding of what characterizes an interdisciplinary problem, and what it means to solve one, as this is one of the main teaching objectives. In this paper I aim to provide this basic understanding. I start out by introducing the concept of an interdisciplinary problem as a problem where the solution is constrained by standards of quality and relevance from multiple disciplines. I further discuss the concept of a discipline as a community of researchers sharing a technical jargon and standards of relevance and quality. I then introduce the concept of an integrated solution to an interdisciplinary problem as a solution that is acceptable according to all relevant standards of relevance and quality. I argue that a partial aim of interdisciplinary teaching is to aid the students overcome the linguistic differences across disciplines and to prepare them for the methodological and philosophical issues that arise in interdisciplinary problem solving due to differing standards of quality and relevance. In this respect interdisciplinary courses share an aim with the philosophy of science courses that are mandatory at Danish universities, and I encourage teachers to cultivate this underexploited potential for cross-fertilization.

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The Theory of Interdisciplinarity An Introduction for Educators