Archive for October, 2011

Quest University, Canada – An Approach to Interdisciplinary Education

Thursday, October 20th, 2011

Dr. David J. Helfand, President, Quest University Canada:

Labor market analysts predict that university graduates today will have at least three careers—not three different jobs, but three quite distinct careers—in their working lifetimes. Why, then, should a university “education” take place in “programs” with a specific focus and culminate in a “major” defined by a departmental silo holding the prescribed knowledge of a single discipline? It is, no doubt, of some value to study a subject deeply, but should this be the approach to an undergraduate education—those precious four years when, for once in a lifetime, one is free to do nothing but learn?

We too often confuse education with training. The Latin, educare —to rear —stems from educere—to lead forth. To stride out into the world and to grow. Not to jump over hurdles, carefully spaced at equal intervals on a circumscribed track.

Now, I am all in favor of training. When I pick a surgeon, I want one who has done the operation I require a thousand times. The same with a car mechanic. And, yes, when I am looking at applications to my PhD program in astrophysics, I want potential students to have some training in the techniques of physics, computer programming, and mathematics. But most of all, I want students who are curious, who can make unexpected connections, who are passionate about learning more — who are educated, preferably in an interdisciplinary way.

Why don’t most universities work this way? Because it is hard and discomforting and time-consuming and disruptive. Most university faculty are the ultimate in specialization; they have spent ten or more years to earn a PhD, progressing along a path which inevitably leads them to learn more and more about less and less (with the obvious accompanying danger that they might end up knowing everything about nothing). Universities are structured in a manner that reinforces the worst aspects of this training, setting up narrowly focused departments to compete against each other for resources and prestige. The unsurprising result is that efforts to reach across disciplinary boundaries —to mount joint courses, start trans-disciplinary programs, foster inter-departmental research projects — are often discouraged or even punished.

At Quest University Canada, the country’s newest university, we have made a conscious effort to remove these barriers to interdisciplinary education. We have no departments, just a faculty devoted to educating (rather than training) curious and passionate undergraduates. We also have no majors.

More at What are the benefits of interdisciplinary education? | Erudito.

Interdisciplinary Education at University of Chicago Law School

Wednesday, October 19th, 2011



Potential students visiting the Law programme at University of Chicago see this text. It explains what is meant by, and the benefits of, Interdisciplinary Education:

Chicagos devotion to interdisciplinary inquiry is as old as the school itself. It grows out of our conviction that the law does not exist in a vacuum; we can understand the law and legal methods only if we understand both how the law affects the behavior of the society it governs and how the law reflects the values of that society. For this reason, students do not study law as an autonomous discipline. Faculty draw students attention to insights from the social sciences, the humanities, and the natural sciences beginning on the first day of class. Faculty members include historians, economists, philosphers, and political scientists, and each year several Law School classes are cross-listed with other departments of the University. While Law and Economics was the first interdisciplinary field for which the Law School became famous, our curriculum demonstrates that students and faculty forge ahead in many other disciplines as well.

See our list of Interdisciplinary Academic Programs to get a better feel for some of the different areas of inquiry in which we engage.

via Interdisciplinary Education | University of Chicago Law School.

The list of interdisciplinary law programmes is finite: International and Comparative Law, Law and Economics, Law and Philosophy, and a Legal History Programme. They don’t seem to allow students to explore outside these pre-determined areas, but for Law and Philosophy, after a required first year course there is “a wide range of electives available to law students with philosophical interests”

The International and Comparative Law programme appears to be based on elective choice: “The Law School offers an expansive and well-rounded curriculum with over 170 elective courses, including more than 30 electives in international and comparative law” (link).

This approach is an interesting one: allow students to select their electives and depending on the number of credits from a specific area, name the degree accordingly? This is similar to the Open University’s approach in the UK: students can study for an “Open” degree, or named degrees. Students wanting a named degree need to ensure a certain amount of credit comes from a prescribed list of courses, some compulsory (as with the “Elements of Law” course above) and others optional.