Developing the research-teaching nexus within a transdisciplinary open platform Common Core course – Mei Li Khong, Julian Tanner
Of the six HKU undergraduate aims, we consider ‘tackling novel situations and ill-defined problems’ and ‘leadership and advocacy for the improvement of human condition’ particularly challenging to achieve. A teaching model which engages students with real world challenges in a collaborative and inquiry-based manner may be an alternative towards achieving these pedagogically challenging undergraduate aims. We developed and implemented a student-led transdisciplinary team project (TTP) open platform common core course which brings together students from varying disciplines to collaborate on a research project with potential for impact in society.
Initiative and Practice
This TTP serves as the first offering of HKU’s Common Core Open Platform Course to enable a flexible learning structure for students and teachers to co-create the course. An assembly of six students from different disciplines and academic backgrounds worked together in identifying wider societal issues and developed their team project by critically questioning how transdisciplinary collaboration could address the issues identified. The team project is completely student-led while course instructors provide regular supervision throughout students’ project. Within the team, some students were engaged in lab-based research, others in public health study, economics, sustainability, and knowledge exchange with the community whilst building collaborations locally and internationally to enrich learning. The impact of student learning through TTP was further evaluated quantitatively through structured questionnaires, qualitatively via open-ended survey, and fulfillment of student project deliverables.
Remarks and Implications
In the quantitative evaluation of students’ perception to learning, students indicated that TTP promoted development of skills and knowledge; interest and curiosity of study topics; social skills and attitudes; and higher-order thinking skills. Qualitative evaluation allowed students to further elaborate on their learning experience. Qualitative data showed that TTP was found to be particularly rewarding in enhancing research skills; advocating autonomy in learning; developing good communication and collaboration; sharing expertise; and providing a larger pool for knowledge exchange and division of labour. All these factors enabled students’ success in their team project.
Students chose to tackle the global issues of the understudied epidemic, Hepatitis C infection. They investigated the behaviour, knowledge and attitude of the local and international community towards Hepatitis C infection in order to understand the challenges of early Hepatitis C diagnosis. Students simultaneously developed a proof-of-concept for rapid and cost-effective 3D-printed diagnostics for Hepatitis C, in hopes to create solutions to the challenges of Hepatitis C diagnosis and intervention. The team subsequently communicated their research findings to the general community through various means – high school educational workshop, HKU student learning festival, open access website, lecture presentation via Wellcome Trust’ global Contagious Cities Project, and a potential academic publication to wrap things up.
Transdisciplinary collaboration amongst students yielded successful project deliverables and consistent with TTP’s positive impact to student learning, TTP achieved the deeper aims of undergraduate curricula. A transdisciplinary course where research and teaching converge would promote student learning in the highest cognitive domain – conduct, collaborate and create solutions to wider societal issues.