Interdisciplinary learning in industry and community projects

  • Leela Cejnar
  • Melanie J. Hayes


The world is increasingly facing complex problems which cannot be solved by one discipline alone (Brassler et al, 2017). University graduates need to develop skills to tackle these challenges, including problem-solving, inventiveness and collaboration. Designing a course which embraces interdisciplinary learning is one way to equip students with the skills they need to overcome challenges they will face in the future. Interdisciplinary learning draws on and synthesises concepts, theories and/or methodologies from different disciplines and gives a more complete, multi-perspective and holistic analysis of a complex problem, in ways that may not be achievable through a single disciplinary lens (Spelt et al, 2009).

In this paper, we share our experiences of working on industry and community projects. As interdisciplinary educators, we developed these units in collaboration with industry partners, to engage students from various disciplinary backgrounds in creating innovative solutions to “real-world” problems such as the future of healthcare, the war on waste, social housing, open data disruption, and climate change. We observed the different ways of thinking students brought with them from their respective disciplines, and how they used their discipline-centric knowledge, varied backgrounds, experiences and abilities to construct “new” interdisciplinary knowledge and work effectively together with their peers (Markauskaite & Goodyear, 2014). We also discuss how, as interdisciplinary educators, we perceive our role to be different in an interdisciplinary context from what we are used to in discipline-focused contexts (Healey, 2005). Based on our own reflections, we apply an interdisciplinary framework that demonstrates how these units prepare students for the changing world of work using interdisicipilinary learning.