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CARL GOMBRICH - BLOG

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.

 

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: easy but hard; hard but easy.

In some ways the concept of interdisciplinarity is easy: when doing research or when learning, follow the problem, not ‘the subject’. That is (on one view) ‘interdisciplinary research’ or ‘interdisciplinary learning’. Karl Popper said it in 1963: ‘We are not students of some subject matter, but students of problems. And problems may cut right across the borders of any subject matter or discipline.’ So don’t worry about what ‘discipline’ or ‘subject’ you are meant to be doing;

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

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

Cognitive Work

Some of the most sceptical remarks about a liberal/interdisciplinary education come from those who are experts in established academic disciplines. The criticism is that by providing a wider base at undergraduate level one is dumbing-down the education. Here are some questions I have put to my colleagues  in this situation: 1. What intellectual tasks do you find difficult? For example: Learning a foreign language? Learning maths or computer programming? Reading 2-3 novels eve

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

Interdisciplinarity and individuation

A tweet about this conference on ‘Promises’ has me thinking about interdisciplinarity in education: the promises it holds and the risks that come with those promises. The beauty of what an interdisciplinary eduction offers is essentially one of individuation. As such it feels contemporary, relevant and desirable. It is part of a long line of political and social developments in democracy and individual freedoms. What we all would like, surely, is to learn what we want, how we

Interdisciplinary education in an established environment – emerging thoughts

I feel at risk once again of getting sucked into the discipline of interdisciplinarity, prompted this time by some excellent articles on such things published by colleagues of mine. But I resist. I want to stay as an outsider, to try to see things continually afresh. Of course the danger is that one ends up re-doing what has been done before or missing a trick or a short-cut that could save time or help students out. But we have to trust that I and my team can bring at least

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

Cross-reference theory of understanding – the Searchlight Metaphor

I hold that you get the best understanding of something by looking at it from many different angles. You can think of this as cross-referencing. And the image I like to use as to how that cross-referencing works is the way a searchlight (or, rather, a set of searchlights) can probe and illuminate an object. Generally I take this metaphor to apply to understanding anything whatsoever, but in order not to get bogged down in philosophical terms like ‘proposition’, ‘essence’ and

 

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