Transdisciplinary thinkers

Why arts and science are better together.’  The Conversation AU June 25, 2013.

Authors – Professor Benjamin Miller, School of Psychology and Fiona White, Lecturer in Writing and Rhetoric, University of Sydney, NSW, Australia.

Benjamin Miller is a coordinator of a single three-year degree that combines both arts and science – the Bachelor of Liberal Arts and Science (BLAS) degree.

Fiona White receives funding from the Australian Research Council and Office of Learning and Teaching. She is also a coordinator of a single three-year degree that combines both arts and science – the Bachelor of Liberal Arts and Science (BLAS) degree.

The article – reduced here – was their contribution to The Conversation’s MATHS AND SCIENCE EDUCATION series. Six years on, in 2019, I wonder how many universities follow this thoughtful cross-disciplinary collaborative direction?  The review of the Australian national curriculum for schools in 2015 removed connections previously developed in reviews in which potential connections, for example, between sustainability and mathematics, had a place in the thinking of the curriculum reviewers.

Transdisciplinary learning

Miller and White wrote: “The arts and science are often thought of as polar opposites. Traditionally, students and universities view them as separate entities – you pick a degree in one or the other and stick to your side of the fence.

Increasingly though, this way of doing things is not enough to prepare students for the data-drenched and volatile workplace of the twenty-first century.

Combining arts and science in the curriculum could be the answer. From science, students learn about sound methods for testing hypotheses, and about interpreting and drawing valid conclusions from data. From arts, they will also learn about developing arguments, and about understanding, moving, and changing the minds of diverse audiences.

There are double and combined degrees already on offer. But there is a great potential for them to be better – improving students’ employment prospects and fostering new skills in “the space between” – in speciality areas.

The untapped potential of combining curricula

In their study into the popularity of double degrees, higher education researchers Wendy Russell, Sara Dolnicar and Marina Ayoub suggested that:

double degree programs have significant untapped potential in preparing graduates for employment.

The potential benefit, they argue, is that graduates develop “transdisciplinary skills” that are highly valued by employers.

Transdisciplinary thinkers take a unique approach to solving problems. They draw information from diverse sources and seek collaborations to produce “socially robust knowledge”. However, the way most combined and double degrees are established does not foster transdisciplinary learning.”

In that 2013 article Benjamin Miller and Fiona White wanted pedagogically based double degrees not ones that were merely administratively based.

Their conclusion connects with the reason for this blog. We are in desperate need of thoughtful voters in our democracies. For example, they could refuse to elect people who are willfully ignorant. Consider the impact for the future of those now in power who have called climate change crap or who will not accept that phrase. They are willfully undermining their nation’s move to clean energy. They are betraying the children who must deal with what those in power are doing as they make decisions that favour fossil fuel companies.

2018’s Billion-Dollar Disasters Show Weather & Climate Impacts Across the U.S. Look at www.climatecentral.org/gallery/maps/billion-dollar-disasters 2018, published Feb 6th 2019.

“After all,” say Miller and White, “while few would doubt the value of disciplined thinking, isn’t our goal also to prepare students for lifelong learning in an undisciplined world?”  I would add this: adults need the same. They were probably in school when subjects were ‘silos’. As citizens they create the future for the young. [See the whole article in the June 25th 2013 issue of The Conversation.]

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