The underdetermination of interdisciplinarity: theory and curriculum design in undergraduate higher education

Morrison, David (2015) The underdetermination of interdisciplinarity: theory and curriculum design in undergraduate higher education. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

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Interdisciplinarity in higher education is a widely used but poorly understood term. There is a wealth of literature about the topic, but beneath the surface details very little of it agrees. Further, what attempts have been made to engage with pedagogies of interdisciplinarity in the undergraduate curriculum often suggest dubious programmes of ‘minimal understanding’ or ‘adequacy’. These are consistent only in their inconsistency and lack of standard qualifications, and are often short lived. This thesis explores why there is no consensus on interdisciplinarity, and why there is no consistently effective undergraduate curriculum to develop it, and seeks to resolve both questions via a range of empirical evidence from fields which have not heretofore been applied to interdisciplinarity research.

Three problems are identified in the current research: self-contradictory pedagogic models; a general lack of reliable evidence for theories; and a lack of engagement with relevant educational and psychological research. Taking a pragmatic approach to evidence I review the existing educational research on disciplinarity and the psychological research on expertise, knowledge transfer, collaborative cognition and categorisation to see if these can yield more consistent and empirical foundations for an understanding of interdisciplinarity. The culmination of this research soundly undermines several of the persistent but ill-evidenced models of interdisciplinarity in the literature, namely pluralism, disciplinary essentialism, and competency-based models, and establishes a more coherent approach to interdisciplinary curricula.

Taking the view that a model is not complete without connection to practice, I have also interviewed current academics in the ‘interdisciplinary’ field of Medieval Studies to correlate the psychological evidence with praxis. Ultimately, interdisciplinarity as a ‘thing’ or a stable academic identity is refuted in favour of interdisciplinarity as a particular focus of skills-based curriculum. This focus should ideally be developed concurrently with matching skills in a disciplinary context in order to balance breadth and depth of learning. This thesis ends with some forward-thinking considerations of curriculum models which could facilitate a balanced disciplinary and interdisciplinary approach in practice.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: Interdisciplinarity, Disciplinarity, Academic Disciplines, Expertise, Knowledge Transfer, Transactive Memory Systems, Medieval Studies, Humanities, Curriculum, Curriculum Design, Higher Education, Disciplines, Multi-disciplinarity, Transdisciplinarity, Pragmatism, Pragmatic, Epistemology
Subjects: L Education > L Education (General)
L Education > LB Theory and practice of education > LB2300 Higher Education
L Education > LB Theory and practice of education > LB2361 Curriculum
Colleges/Schools: College of Social Sciences > School of Education > Social Justice Place and Lifelong Education
Supervisor's Name: Gunn, Professor Vicky and Broun, Professor Dauvit
Date of Award: 2015
Depositing User: Mr David Morrison
Unique ID: glathesis:2015-6094
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 04 Mar 2015 08:43
Last Modified: 10 Mar 2015 16:52

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