Interdisciplinarity in teaching

Subject: HUM-course. Course title: Culture and Memory. Study level: BA 3. semester. Class size: 25.

Motivation for the activity

In courses with students from different academic backgrounds I have experienced that both the students and I want more interaction and opportunities to learn from each other in the teaching. This activity provides the opportunity of getting to know the “crossbreed course” Culture and Memory better through the students' own academic background.

Central learning outcomes for the course

That the student

  • demonstrates an understanding of the basic theory of the course
  • can identify, analyse and communicate a subject area with focus on cultural memory
  • can operationalise and include one or more theoretical positions in the analysis
  • can take an interdisciplinary view on the issue at hand

Central learning outcomes for the activity

To create connections across academic backgrounds - to see one's own subject in the light of other subjects.

The activity can be used in interdisciplinary settings (HUM-courses and the like) or in courses at any study program with an interdisciplinary perspective.

Description of the activity

I hand out a couple of questions about history perception and understanding and ask the students to discuss the questions in a general perspective in groups of people with different academic backgrounds.

The questions could be: “How do national communities typically commemorate a 'historical' event?” or “How do we as individuals commemorate 'historical' events?

The discussion should be summarized in writing, maybe just in list form. All can contribute in answering such broad questions. Take 30-45 minutes for this group work.  

Next step is to ask the students to answer the same questions based on their specific academic background. This is harder but it can be an advantage to take this discussion in the whole group: What would historians, anthropologists, language scholars, psychologists, literary historians, philosophers, art historians, media science scholars etc. say? This discussion can lead on to different theories of the subject (cultural memory) which the teacher can then introduce to the group.  

As a closure to the activity and to make sure that the discussion gets anchored in independent reflection the students can be asked to describe their own academic background's approach in light of the interdisciplinary perspectives. This is done in a short written assignment (max. 1 page) that the students can discuss in their interdisciplinary groups in next week's class.  

Outcome of the activity

The students learn from each other and get a better understanding of their own academic approach in the light of this cross cutting subject.

Reflections on the activity

It can be difficult to get the full benefit in the groups where the dynamics and work performance leave much to be desired. It is therefore important to empathise to the students that they are not only getting to know a new subject, but also each others' different approaches and this is where the interdisciplinary perspective kicks in.   

Questions and instructions to the group work and to the collective and individual written exercises has to be crystal clear. Time is needed to follow up in the group, 2 x 45 minutes is good, and it can be an idea to ask the students to overidentify with their academic background as a pedagogical exercise.   

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