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There is an increasing awareness within the academic community that collaboration between disciplines constitutes one of the next big challenges not only for the University of the 21st century, but also for society at large. This collaboration can vary in intensity, ranging from lighter forms like multidisciplinarity (shared topic, juxtaposition of perspectives, autonomy), to more intense interdisciplinary cooperation (integration of disciplinary insights, interdependence), to the most challenging level: transdisciplinarity. The latter strives for interdisciplinary problem-solving implementations (consistent with modern agency-focused teaching methods), among other things through collaboration between academic institutions and other actors.

 

Didactical Challenge

Interdisciplinarity – which itself requires explicating its disciplinary foundations – is a precondition for all forms of transdisciplinary problem solving. Consequently, in a compelling recent white paper, the League of European Research Universities (LERU) puts interdisciplinarity at the top of the upcoming agenda for European Universities (Wernli, D. & F. Darbellay, 2016, Interdisciplinarity and the 21st Century Research-Intensive University. Leuven: LERU).

The LERU-paper explicates a range of concrete measures that Universities may take to create an environment that, in addition to fostering high quality disciplinary work, is also conducive to interdisciplinarity in research and teaching: “(1) establish interdisciplinarity as a core business of the University, (2) identify and support areas where interdisciplinary collaboration is likely to create new knowledge, (3) prepare the terrain for interdisciplinarity in education, (4) create the next generation of interdisciplinary researchers, and finally (5) promote a culture of interdisciplinarity and continually improve the system” (p. 4).

Indeed, during the past decade, many educational programs and individual lecturers have attempted to incorporate multi-, inter- and transdisciplinary elements into their teaching, for example by improving student exposure to multiple theories and multiple methods. These efforts notwithstanding, we currently lack a sound didactical framework and the related educational material to guide efforts of designing, implementing, and evaluating activating forms of teaching with inter-, still less transdisciplinary ambitions. Nor do we have systematic evidence about the effectiveness of such attempts. Simply bringing together a team of lecturers from different disciplines around a specific topic, or letting students read texts from different disciplines will most likely not be sufficient to get us there.

SCOOP develops and implements a didactical trajectory and related toolboxes that support instructors in developing courses (or course modules) with inter- and transdisciplinary content, and which achieve the desired learning outcomes for students.

Interdisciplinary Training

SCOOP designed a curricular environment in which our ReMa and PhD students can obtain just the right mix of deep disciplinary expertise and wider interdisciplinary outlook. The best practices of quality control routines and curriculum development as they are in place in the participating research schools will guide interdisciplinary training. The SCOOP training center will offer PhD’s in the program their own stream of tailor-made, in-depth training. This includes advanced training on specific topics of interest in the form of master classes provided by leading international scholars, forum days, and colloquia for knowledge exchange between sub-projects.

From day one, students will be engaged through writing assignments, in which they will also be encouraged to connect the content to their own projects. Course days will rotate between the participating Universities. Additional elective short course modules targeting more specific issues in theory construction and modeling, methodological approaches, source material and research design will be developed. Students will also be trained in presentation techniques, writing skills and publication strategies.

All SCOOP Research Master and PhD students will become part of the Faculty-based Graduate Schools at their respective University, which offer a wide variety of optional skill and competence courses (e.g. project management, academic writing, presentation).

Interdisciplinary Course Program

The core of the training program consists in a two-semester course on Sustainable Cooperation: A Transdisciplinary Approach. It has three main components. It will be co-taught by consortium members from all four disciplines. It consists of three modules.  

Theory

Since interdisciplinarity requires a disciplinary foundation, a first set of modules consists of introductions to the problem of cooperation from different disciplinary perspectives. These introductions would provide an overview of key theories as well as state of the art developments (empirical and theoretical) on cooperation. In a second set of modules, the interfaces between two or more disciplines regarding sustainable cooperation are addressed. Here, experts from different disciplines inquire into complementarities and contradictions, as well as into the opportunities for theoretical unification. We will draw on SCOOP’s extended interdisciplinary network of scholars for contributions to these modules.

Method

The Methods Module provides students with an overview of relevant disciplinary toolkits, aiming to stimulate the use of mixed method research designs in their projects. It also provides an introduction into the main components of the SCOOP Lab. The module provides short introductions into different (disciplinary) methods used to collect and analyze data on (sustainable) cooperation (e.g., experimental, modeling, field studies, case studies, and qualitative research inter alia). The module also introduces examples for the appropriate use of different "mixes" of methods.

Policy

The main purpose of the Intervention Module is to evaluate conditions under which policies and interventions for sustainable cooperation for care, work, and inclusion are successful or fail. This third part makes the step towards transdisciplinary problem-solving. In collaboration with real stakeholders from society (i.e. business firms, public administration, non-governmental organizations), an inventory of "cases" will be developed. Each case addresses a specific and concrete problem of sustainable cooperation, and documents how this was tackled by the team of researchers and stakeholders. It illustrates which theoretical and methodological approaches have been chosen, how they have been combined, and why. It discusses the added value, but also the limitations and challenges that a transdisciplinary approach had for solving the stakeholder's problem. For the development of transdisciplinary policy cases, we will involve societal stakeholders from SCOOP’s extended network.

Interdisciplinary Supervisory Teams 

Three arrangements foster students’ interdisciplinary development. First, SCOOP PhD-students will have multiple supervisors with at least one in a different disciplinary background than the main supervisor. Second, each student is embedded in one of the 12 Challenges with three other projects. Finally, students will be required to actively engage with material from other disciplines, both as a reviewer of papers from fellow students, and by discussing their own work with students from other disciplines.

Interdisciplinary Events

Twice a year, all PhD-students participating in SCOOP meet to present their ongoing research. Senior faculty is present during these meetings. Each presentation is followed by comments from one senior researcher and one PhD-student. Students are also encouraged to attend lectures and brown-bag lunches with invited speakers from within or outside the consortium. Renown scholars are invited to give master classes. These external and internationally renowned colleagues comment upon the students’ research so far. Once a year, a summer or winter school will be organized by consortium members to provide intensive training in theoretical or methodological techniques.

Internships

An internship of 6-12 weeks is part of the training program. Internships will be tailored to the specific needs of a student’s project. Internship positions will be recruited from the extensive national and international network of consortium members. During an internship, a student is embedded in a (research or policy) group at the host institution, and works closely together with the inviting scholar.

Disciplinary Training

High quality disciplinary development will be secured through close collaboration with award-winning interuniversity research schools that have a proven track record in PhD and research master training. These are the Interuniversity Center for Social Science Theory and Methodology (ICS) in the field of sociology; the Kurt Lewin Institute (KLI) in the field of psychology; the Posthumus Institute in the field of economic and social history; and the Dutch Research School of Philosophy (OZSW) in the field of Philosophy. They build on a proven combination of theoretical and methodological classes, self-study, peer learning, internships, close supervision, as well as advanced, in-depth courses, summer and winter schools with top international speakers, research rounds, and lectures by external speakers. Further, consortium members have played a pivotal role in developing and implementing the related curricula. This secures easy access for PhD students to advanced coursework and specialist training in other relevant disciplines to extend their primary disciplinary training.

 

 
 
 

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