Lessons From Thirty Years of Interdisciplinary Study: The Case of One Australian University

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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
Stream: Education and Social Welfare
Presentation Type: Paper Presentation in English
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Assoc. Prof. Lorraine Marshall

Associate Professor, Division of Academic Affairs, Murdoch University
Murdoch, Western Australia, Australia

Lorraine Marshall is a foundation staff member of Murdoch University who established and led Student Learning support for many years. She is currently Convener of Murdoch's first year Foundation units with oversight of their curriculum, teaching and governance, and in 2006 she received a National Carrick Citation for her contribution to student learning within these interdisciplinary units. She is the author of two books: A guide to learning independently (with Frances Rowland) now in its fourth edition and A learning companion (2006). Lorraine has extensive experience in undergraduate teaching, staff development, independent learning, open and distance learning, and the development of online multimedia materials (and in 2006 won a National Carrick Program Award in Flexible Delivery for her online Quick Skills modules).

Ref: I08P0319