Lessons From Thirty Years of Interdisciplinary Study: The Case of One Australian University
Since its inception in 1975 Murdoch University in Western Australia has been unusual in the Australian context in terms of its focus on interdisciplinarity in undergraduate education. Murdoch University has long claimed interdisciplinarity to be one of its distinguishing features. It has a university wide policy on interdisciplinarity and specifies ‘interdisciplinarity’ as one of the attributes students are expected to have when they graduate, that is ‘A capacity to acquire knowledge and understanding of fields of study beyond a single discipline’. All Murdoch University students have been introduced to interdisciplinary study in compulsory first year Foundation units that are the corner stone of a Part 1 program of studies. Foundation units aim to introduce students to university study, provide a broad perspective and expose students to a range of disciplines and teaching styles. Encouraging the exploration of a range of options before students proceed to their chosen field of study is dependent on a tradition of flexibility that enables students to move easily between and across disciplines. Over the years the Part 1 program at Murdoch University has been eroded by disciplinary demands on students but the basic principles continue to be reaffirmed by external reviews and from within the University. Recently the value of general undergraduate programs has been further restated as other Australian universities investigate and instigate interdisciplinary programs of studies. The trend towards interdisciplinarity in Australia provides cause for reflection on interdisciplinarity at Murdoch. This presentation will describe the Murdoch University experience and outline the lessons that have been learned over the past 30 years.
Keywords: Interdisciplinary Study, Graduate Attributes, Generic Skills, Critical Thinking, Independent and Lifelong Learning, Curriculum Development
Assoc. Prof. Lorraine Marshall
Associate Professor, Division of Academic Affairs, Murdoch University