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Higher Education, Interdisciplinarity, and some related things like Expertise and Future of Work

Welcome to my new blog. You can read more about me in the About tab, top left. I'm looking forward to getting back to 'writing and thinking out loud' about Higher Education, Interdisciplinarity and other things that interest me. You can talk to me either here or on my linked Twitter feed.



What is expertise? ‘Expert skill and knowledge in a particular field’. What is a field? That is much harder. Is this woman an expert in her field? I asked this question of a group of students. The answer was, ‘Yes, she’s an expert because she has a PhD’. But her PhD is in Physical Chemistry – and this is certainly not her field any more. Is running a country a field? I think it is, but it’s not something you can get a PhD in. I think Merkel is an expert in the field of runnin

General expertise – the gap between rote learning and a different sort of mastery

The work of Fernand Gobet and Herbert Simon seems to indicate that expertise is ‘domain specific’. That is, you can only learn to be an expert or have mastery in a well-defined area or discipline. This is a challenge to someone who would like to argue for the value of a more general and interdisciplinary type of education for some students. Expertise is good, right? Graduates should have expertise. So how can we show that we are training habits of mind which are powerful and

I Know Nahthing…

I had an excellent day at the PELeCON at Plymouth University, despite a mad dash to get there and a chest infection. I learned a great deal and made contacts with several people whose work I aim to follow through twitter and elsewhere. On returning, I have followed up some leads and read more and…well, as so often happens, I am left feeling a little sheepish and humbled by all that I do not know, all that I perhaps should have known and all that I may have said in the past th

Series learning versus parallel learning

One of the principal criticisms one meets when setting up an interdisciplinary degree is that what the student learns will be ‘superficial’. It may have some breadth, but no real depth, none of the necessary ‘stuff’ one should get from a proper university degree. In my discussions and presentations I try to assuage this worry by, among other things, pointing to the work and thoughts of my colleagues, the Pathway Representatives on the Arts and Sciences degree. These front-ran

Resisting expertise

As I read more on interdisciplinarity, learn more about it through my daily work, talk more to colleagues who do fascinating interdisciplinary work and lead fascinating interdisciplinary lives, there is pressure on me to become an expert in the discipline of interdisciplinarity. There is something obviously ridiculous about this, and I am resisting. Although I think that so far I am right to resist in this case, it forces me to reflect on what might be perceived as a lack of

Enoughness of expertise in higher education in the age of web 2.0

I want to introduce the concept of ‘enough expertise’ into higher education – particularly with respect to teaching undergraduates. The concept of ‘enough’ (or should that really be ‘enoughness’?) is in the air – see, for example this symposium at UCL. But usually we are referring on such occasions to material or economic sufficiency (recall the quote from Obama about having enough money if your curtains cost more than an average person’s salary). But in an age where the grea

10,000 hours and interdisciplinary learning

The notion that 10,000 hours is what is required to reach expertise in a given area has been popularised by Malcolm Gladwell and appeared previously in Daniel Levitin’s book This is Your Brain on Music, and elsewhere. This notion presents a challenge to someone involved in an interdisciplinary education project. There are anxieties that a student studying an interdisciplinary course will spread themselves too thinly; they will only study ‘a little bit of this and a little bit


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