Session 1

Workshop (Senaatszaal 1)

Learning activities for interdisciplinary students

Ger Post, Silke van Beekum, & Linda de Greef. Instituut voor Interdisciplinaire Studies, Universiteit van Amsterdam.

How can Walt Disney’s strategy help to foster interdisciplinary thinking in your classroom? Why would you send your students on an Interdisciplinary Shuttle to planet Kepler 62e? How can scenario analysis help to develop critical thinking important for interdisciplinary students?

Although the importance of an interdisciplinary approach is often stressed, not many tools exist to foster interdisciplinary thinking in the classroom. During this workshop concrete suggestions are provided in the form of examples of learning activities that university teachers can use to teach interdisciplinary skills.

After reviewing the literature on interdisciplinary skills and an analysis with professors at the University of Amsterdam, De Greef and colleagues distinguished three constituent skills for interdisciplinary understanding: critical thinking, collaboration and reflection (De Greef, Post, Vink, & Wenting, 2016). Over the past two years, Edelbroek and colleagues have gathered 32 learning activities that train the skills for interdisciplinary understanding (Edelbroek, Mijnders, & Post, in press).

In this workshop some of these learning activities will be discussed. For example, in the learning activity Socratic-style Questioning students develop their critical thinking and reflection skills. Students are trained to ask questions that help them to gain insight into underlying assumptions and values of (disciplinary) perspectives. Assumptions can obstruct integration and by using Socratic-questions students can bring these assumptions and values on the table and reflect on them.

Using an Issue Tree (a method derived from McKinsey & Company), students learn to split up a complex problem into subproblems (and in doing so, train their critical thinking skills reasoning and analyzing). This learning activity illustrates all the important elements of a problem and can help students to prioritize elements for their upcoming research process. This activity is especially suitable for courses focusing on doing research in small groups or as a starting point for an individual research paper or case study.

Being able to collaborate with students from different disciplines is especially important in interdisciplinary group projects. To facilitate an effective collaboration, it can help for team members to be aware of their strong and weak points. The learning activity Team Charters can make these explicit and encourage discussions between team members on their shared vision and what they consider a successful end result. Moreover, the charters can be input for giving feedback and reflections on team processes.

In this workshop the following questions will be addressed:

– How can you incorporate learning activities in your workshop, course or curriculum?

– How can these learning activities contribute to creating a challenging, engaging and successful learning environment?

Workshop (Senaatszaal 2)

The Boundary Crossing Rubric: exploring its use in an intercultural transdisciplinary higher education course

Carla Oonk, Karen Fortuin and Judith Gulikers, Wageningen University 


At the NIE conference 2017, we presented the boundary crossing (BC) rubric as a new tool-under-construction for stimulating working and learning with and from ‘the other’ and assess boundary crossing competence development. The BC rubric is based on four boundary crossing learning mechanisms identification, coordination, reflection, and transformation that are supposed to catalyze learning with and from other disciplines, cultures, perspectives, interests (Akkerman and Bakker, 2011). The BC rubric distinguishes various boundary crossing performance indicators per learning mechanism, and performance levels for each of these (Gulikers and Oonk, 2016). The tool is expected to support boundary crossing learning by helping to set learning objectives, discuss, reflect on and assess boundary crossing learning during a project, and help teachers to stimulate students’ boundary crossing learning. From Spring 2017, we implemented the rubric in a transdisciplinary international master course at Wageningen University (Fortuin and Bush, 2010), and collected some first impressions on its use from students and teachers.

In this workshop you (1) get familiarized with the boundary crossing rubric, (2) apply the use of the rubric to your own educational context, and (3) critically assess and discuss with your peers to what extent the rubric could be of added value for supporting working and learning with and from ‘the other’ in interdisciplinary, transdisciplinary and/or international courses.


Akkerman, S. F., and Bakker, A. (2011). Boundary crossing and boundary objects.   Review of Educational Research, 81(2), 132-169.
Fortuin, K. P. J. and Bush, S. R. (2010). Educating students to cross boundaries between disciplines and cultures and between theory and practice. International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education, 11(1), 19-35.
Gulikers, J. T. M., and Oonk, C. (2016). Het waarderen van leren met partijen buiten de school. OnderwijsInnovatie, 3, 17-26.


Papersession 2 (Blauwe zaal)

How to design for courses and learning activities that go beyond  the borders of subject or even institute domains?

Dr. Coyan Tromp, University of Amsterdam 

Within the interdisciplinary bachelor program Future Planet Studies at the University of Amsterdam, we are working on an integrated semester on food. In this presentation, I’d like to share our ideas on how philosophy of science and reflexive design could form a means to work on the integration of knowledge, methods and skills from the natural sciences , the social sciences and humanities, to help tackle the complex issues of our times.

The kick-off course is designed in such a way as to engage the class for half of the time in joint lessons, while the other half of the lessons is split up in either a beta oriented- track or a more gamma focused track.

In the joint classes, students reflect on the different types of science that are involved in the research on food related issues, and in the various types of methods these imply. While they are stimulated to become aware of the variety in underlying assumptions, students are at the same time challenged to try and integrate them via a reflexive design project centered around an issue that is related to the central question: how can we feed the world population in 2050? Using systems thinking, students have to come up with promising interventions, and subsequently design a trajectory towards implementation of these solutions.

Concurrently, students are invited to work out different models with varying parameters. While the betas might run models comparing a carnivore to a vegetarian diet, the gammas might work on socio-technical scenarios to enable a transition towards more sustainable ‘foodscapes’.

In the second block of the semester, both student groups are trained in state-of-the-art methods related to Geographical Information Systems and Remote Sensing. But again, the two groups work on different types on data gathering and analysis, e.g. betas focusing on data gathering and analysis related to land use, land cover, biomass, and gamma’s to topics such as: population growth, urban sprawl, resources flows, and infrastructure.

In parallel courses running aside these courses in block 1 and 2, the beta students follow two courses on topics related to the soil-plant system, geo-morphological  & soil processes, and the implications thereof for agriculture. And the gamma students learn more about Governance & Systemic Transformation and about the Political Economy of Transnational Food Chains.

All along the course of the semester, students will be supported to further work on their project.

In the final block, they are actually going to implement the designed interventions (if they have not already started doing that earlier). Needless to say, anticipation on the expected effects, including undesired side-effects, are inherently part of that process. Using their newly acquired reflexive design skills, they bring together everything they’ve learned, both as regards the (beta and gamma) knowledge and the data they gathered and analyzed using a wide arrange of methods.

Interdisciplinary course under the methodology project-oriented learning: A Dutch experience in Chile

Dr. Mauricio Pradena & Ir. Lambert Houben, Delft University of Technology

During the last decades the Civil Engineering curriculum has developed towards more and more different disciplines, i.e. structural, hydraulic, geotechnical, transportation engineering, etc. However, some real Civil Engineering problems are complex and require going beyond the borders of the single domains. To solve these problems, cooperation with people of different Civil Engineering disciplines is required. Hence, engineering education must provide possibilities for these kinds of integrated work where the students of different disciplines can share competencies and expertise aiming that the whole can be greater than the sum of the parts. Due to its geography and the occurrence of earthquakes and tsunamis, in Chile there are different possibilities to develop (real) Civil Engineering projects that require an interdisciplinary approach. As there is an academic relationship between the authors of the present paper and their institutions in Chile and the Netherlands, an interdisciplinary course under the methodology Project-Oriented Learning has been developed in Chile, but with active participation of students and teachers from the Netherlands, in particular MSc students of Delft University of Technology.  The objective of the present paper is to describe and analyse the first experience of this interdisciplinary course in 2016 and the projection for the current and future versions. For that, the description of the first experience is presented together with the analysis of teachers and students from Chile and the Netherlands. In addition, activities related with the improvement of the course (as a workshop about “Project-Led Education” given in Chile by a lecturer of the University of Twente) are presented. Although the first experience was successful in terms of interdisciplinarity and quality of the project, possibilities of improvement were identified based on the analysis previously mentioned. Actually, both teachers and students stressed the importance of collaborative work with peers, the relationships with users of the project and research as crucial factors for learning and motivation. In particular, when the students answered to an open question they highlighted the interdisciplinary character of the educational experience. This is confirmed by the appreciation of the teachers, who observed the active interaction of the students of different disciplines producing a positive synergy that was reflected in the final solution given by the team as a whole. Hence, considering the evaluation of Dutch and Chilean teachers and students, the vision of Project-Led Education and the differences in the academic calendars between the northern and the southern hemisphere, an online platform has been developed to make the course more project-centered. This allows students from the Netherlands and Chile to prepare the theoretical aspects of the course in advance. As a consequence, more time is available for interaction of the Dutch students in Chile, working in the project with Chilean students, consulting and receiving feedback from the lecturers and the engineers of the Ports Department of the Ministry of Public Works.

Integration of Philosophy & Drawing within the course “Spatial Imagination”.

A method for integrating theory & practice of spatial analysis in architectural education.

H.M.T. Aarts & dr. J.C.T. Voorthuis, Faculty of The Built Environment, TU Eindhoven

This paper will present the experiences, ideas and evaluation of a course called “Spatial Imagination”, an elective for Bachelor Students of the Faculty of the Built Environment. The data comes from the three years in which the course was set up and has developed as a result of three different forms of course evaluation. The course brought together two rather unlikely bedpartners, namely philosophy and drawing. They have become a promising couple, braiding the theoretical with the practical, thinking with doing. What is special about the course is its methodological approach and its relevance to the profession of architectural design, as well as the current attempts to make it into a course of blended learning. We have made the philosophy of space into a tangible and concrete subject, explaining various conceptions of space and working out how these conceptions affect our way of responding to space in architectural design. At the same time, the lessons in drawing explore these theoretical positions by combining the real experience of space with drawing, and in the meanwhile developing the skills of critical spatial representation. In this way the theory is giving a foundation in practice.

The course is made up of three parts. One part consists of a course of 8 lectures in which a theoretical framework is given, concerning various conceptions of space. Parallel to this, there are 7 drawing workshops which respond to the lectures and vice versa. To give a concrete example: when the philosophy lectures discuss Kant’s “Das Ding an sich”, and the idea that space and time are categories of mind, requiring ‘models of space and time’ to organize our experience of the world, the drawing workshops explore various models of observing and representing space, such as the systems of perspective, which are then discussed and explored in the lectures. There is an in between, the seminar part, in which both theoretical and practical research is performed by students themselves on the spatial setting of specific works of art and architecture. Those specific works of art & architecture change every year. The seminar assignment requires small groups of students who analyse and critique the work of art & architecture and finally they transform it into another dimension.

The three components of the course are together concerned with raising awareness of how our experience of space is affected by our conception of it, and using that awareness to improve the critical acumen with which the student approaches the design task.

For three years we have been able to critically evaluate the subject and have developed it into a course which has been consistently well evaluated. Nevertheless we currently are upgrading the quality further by making referential materials for students, moulded into the form of screencast for different philosophical concepts and pen cast for the drawing parts. To make the connection between the philosophical thoughts and viewpoints, and the representational and drawing part more touchable, we are now creating more explicit links between these two parts. The seminar part as the in-between philosophy and drawing is also developed further.