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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.

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5 minutes of thoughts on integrated curricula and liberal arts

Below is the text of a short talk I gave at a conference on Liberal Arts organised by Benedictus on Friday 24 June 2016. * I’m not sure what I was thinking when I proposed to give a 5-minute talk on the topic of ‘How to create an integrated curriculum’.  I now don’t think this is possible to do properly in 5 mins. So I will simply raise some thoughts but I won’t go into nuts and bolts here. These are on the website of the Arts and Sciences BASc degree at UCL and you can put t

Necessary and Sufficient Conditions in Higher Education

I think that most important decisions, realisations and insights in life are essentially irrational, or a least a-rational, processes.  This may sound odd, but I mean that who you fall in love with, which music you like, what politics you espouse, which career you choose – the things that shape your life – are essentially decided by emotional responses, rather than rational calls. Calling them ’emotional decisions’ might be one way to go, but this sounds strange as some of th

Interdisciplinarity and Intellectual Excitement

I’ve been blogging on the connection between studying at university and work recently. I think this is important because the overwhelming majority of our students will not work in universities; there is no obvious reason, therefore, why studying a single university discipline is the best thing for most students to do in order to prepare themselves for the majority of white-collar jobs. I am also positive about the relationship between traditional university work and values an

Rigour in interdisciplinary education

What is rigour in education? A rigorous education must be intellectually demanding. It must require students to present work which is accurate, well-written, well-researched and, where appropriate, contains interesting detail. None of these qualities is the sole property of a particular academic discipline and one can present work which has all these qualities which crosses disciplinary boundaries. There is a point at which rigour becomes dull, when an insistence on rigour is

Education for ‘specialisation’ in the knowledge economy

There are many reasons to believe that a liberal and interdisciplinary education in arts and sciences is the best to prepare you for work in a knowledge economy. In this world, service jobs overwhelmingly dominate and workers are required to show flexibility, creativity, empathy, team-working skills and so on. The, formerly competing, notions of inherent value and instrumental value blur together in jobs which require ‘virtual collaboration’, ‘cross-cultural competency’, ‘sen

The Knowledge Economy and end of the inherent vs instrumental value conflict in education

‘The Knowledge Economy is the future of the world economy,’ professional services firm Deloitte announced in their report of February last year. What is a ‘knowledge economy’? Safe to say we do not yet understand it very well. The Wikipedia page needs a lot of work. However, it seems that many of the richer countries in the world now ‘exist within’ such economies or perhaps ‘are’ such economies, if that does not grant too much existential priority to the notion of economics.

Explicit vs Implicit in Education

So, I get consulted a lot these days about what we’re doing at UCL, how come our students are able successfully to study such radical combinations as Organic Chemistry, Accounting and Arabic, or Conceptual Design, Design Engineering and Inorganic Chemistry, or Law, Engineering and Environmental Economics, and so on. ‘What is the process?’,’ What are the stated outcomes?’, ‘What in the summary of the vision?’ ‘How do you define interdisciplinarity?’, ‘What are your metrics of

Liberal Education for a Complex World

Here is the talk I gave as one of the keynotes at the ‘Arts and Sciences for Global Leaders’ event at Hitotsubashi University in Japan in November, 2014. An eminent British colleague said to me that although he enjoyed the piece, there was nothing really in it to disagree with and therefore he wondered if it could serve as part of any real debate. All comments and disagreements are therefore welcome! Liberal Education for a Complex World: The challenge of remaining open. Ladi

Work, skills, education and 21st century blarney

Had a good ol’ chat with Tom Bennett on Twitter last night. In case you don’t know Tom (and neither do I, really) he’s a superb edu blogger – very funny and very much in the ‘trad’ camp when it comes to the current debates on school education. Tom hates stuff about teaching 21st century skills: emotional intelligence; resilience; teamwork collaboration and those sorts of things. I sent him this link which he commented on as ‘total gibberish’. I’m not so sure. But even if I’m

Wading In

I read Toby Young’s piece on ‘The Blob‘ over the weekend. Some of it I agreed with, some of it I didn’t. Here’s a few sections of what could be many in response. Facts Is it really true that up and down the country children are being denied the knowledge of facts? I have two children, 9 and 7, in a local state primary school and they learn loads of facts. They tell me about Ancient Greece, The Tudors (including dates), bats, owls, eclipses, the physics of sound (fantastic pro

Academic Empathy

An occasional paper given at The Faculty Institute of Graduate Studies (FIGS) within the Faculty of Arts and Humanities at UCL November, 2013. Academic Empathy: A concept worth bearing in mind? Abstract Talk of empathy is everywhere: in science, the humanities, business and politics. Yet do we, as academics, think enough about how it applies to us in our academic and intellectual lives?  This paper introduces the concept of Academic Empathy in order to clarify how empathy mig

Generation Blend

This year on Arts and Sciences BASc at UCL, several students studied MOOCs and used online sources alongside their undergraduate modules at UCL. I knew anecdotally of around  8-10 students who were doing this so I wrote to them to ask how they had used MOOCs and other online sources to supplement and complement their UCL courses. This is an unscientific survey and there could be many more students than I know about. I had replies from about 10% of the cohort (those I wrote to

Would you do your own degree?

This is a question I am increasingly asked. It’s a well fair question to someone leading a big course which includes a lot of innovation. The shortish answer is: I can’t know for sure because I am a different person now and the world has changed a bit, but probably yes. People who are brighter and more interesting than me would have done it On the superb Arts and Sciences team at UCL, both Dr Chiara Ambrosio and Prof Vin Walsh have said they would have done the Arts and Scien

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

Holistic Hijack

I had in mind to do a proper academic blog on an idea I have that liberal education has generally not flourished in the UK due to a widespread suspicion of ‘theory’ and a healthy devotion to empiricism and pragmatism. However, the blog wasn’t happening, so I’ve sketched the idea in this vlog instead. Here: 1. I reflect briefly on my own writing (or lack of it) in my current position. 2. I contrast some ideas of education from Europe (Humboldt) with our more British ideas of w

Two cautionary tales

I’ve been bigging up interdisciplinarity and generalism as something we must look to provide in UK HE alongside more traditional subject/discipline-based degrees. The most viewed blogs that are closely related to these topics are here, here and here. However, in the interest of balance, there are two pieces of cautionary advice I wish to offer alongside championing these approaches in HE. 1. You can’t have everything Although we may wish to increase breadth, there is simply n

The Impulse to Generalism

I spoke recently at the London Expertise Group, a group of philosophers, psychologists and educationalists, about generalism in undergraduate education. I argued that we need to reclaim some ground for this type of education – its intrinsic and instrumental value. As I’ve argued before, I see generalism as the kind of Big Daddy of interdisciplinarity. But whilst interdisciplinarity is in vogue, generalism is still derided by the use of such phrases a ‘jack of all trades’, ‘ge

Specialism, Generalism, Details and the Big Picture

Interdisciplinarity is in vogue in education. It’s been in vogue in the US for a while and throughout most of the last 100 years some major institutions in the States have offered interdisciplinary modules or fully interdisciplinary degrees. The discussion is now in full flow in the UK, after some isolated but noticeable attempts at similar projects over the last 50 years or so. It is widely agreed that in areas such as International Development, Gaming, Behavioural Economics

Can we talk about leadership?

Can we talk about leadership? Specifically, can we talk about the relationship between leadership and undergraduate degrees? I have a good deal of anecdotal evidence that the sort of student most likely to be a leader at school is the all-rounder, the student who is strong academically across a range of subjects but also plays sport or music – and frequently both – to a high level. They may not be absolutely the strongest in any one subject at school but typically they will b

‘Difficult Thinking’ and Interdisciplinarity

At the SRHE conference on Structuring Knowledge last week, Gareth Williams said that we need people in our universities to do the ‘difficult thinking’. I agree. Elsewhere on this blog I have argued against education being too easy, or even too much fun – at least in a superficial sense. Great rewards come from overcoming great difficulties and in the intellectual sphere this sort of work takes place in universities. Don’t get me wrong: I’m not against having fun – at least I

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