Editorial – Interdisciplinary teaching and learning: Wise practices at HKU – Tracy Zou

Interdisciplinarity is an interesting concept. If you ask people whether interdisciplinarity is important, many would probably say yes. One frequently quoted reason is that the problems and challenges facing us are too complex nowadays so that we cannot tackle them using the approaches and tools from one discipline. An interdisciplinary approach is often preferred for complex global issues, such as climate change, fighting global disease, dealing with fake news, and cybersecurity1. Developing interdisciplinary perspectives and skills among our students is believed to be important to prepare them for these challenges.

However, the picture of interdisciplinary teaching and learning in practice is sometimes bleak. The majority of the universities are organised by individual disciplines. It is not surprising to see interdisciplinary as challenging because there are boundaries to cross and hurdles to overcome.

We therefore see a great value in surfacing and sharing wise practices in interdisciplinary teaching and learning. The articles in this issue feature a number of exemplary practices as well as reflection from the involving teachers.

Learn together, work together by Dr. LK Chan, Dr. Fraide Ganotice, and Prof. Frances Wong features a large-scale award-winning project ‘Interprofessional Team-based Learning (IPTBL) for Health Professional Students’ that brings students in 12 undergraduate health and social care programmes from two universities together in tackling clinical problems. The ‘secrets’ of achieving interdisciplinarity in such a large scale can be found in their story.

Catalysing interdisciplinarity by Prof. Gray Kochhar-Lindgren, Professor and Director of the Common Core at HKU, discusses what interdisciplinarity means and how it is practiced in the Common Core. The Common Core serves as a cornerstone of interdisciplinary learning for all of our undergraduates. Let us hear how Prof. Kochhar-Lindgren addresses the following key question: ‘How does interdisciplinarity catalyse individuals and groups, connect domains of knowledge, serve the common good, and enhance the tasks of the university as a whole?’

The most challenging course I have taught in 28 years at HKU by Prof. Christopher Hutton tells us the experience in teaching an interdisciplinary course – Law, Meaning and Interpretation. Prof. Hutton shares how he designs the course to overcome the challenges associated with having law and non-law students in the same class. It is also comforting to know from Prof. Hutton that this most challenging course is also his favourite over 28 years of teaching experience.

Interdisciplinarity at the course level by Dr. Gavin Porter raises an important question to all readers: ‘How strong is your topic or theme in an interdisciplinary context?’ By contrasting ‘weaker’ and ‘stronger’ themes in course design, Dr. Porter has vividly illustrated successes and pitfalls of interdisciplinarity at a course level. Useful suggestions on designing an interdisciplinary course are also provided based on real examples and experiences.

The notion of ‘interdisciplinarity’ in teaching is a short blog article by myself. It discusses the similarities and differences among four related terms – interdisciplinarity, multidisciplinarity, cross-disciplinarity, and transdisciplinarity. A number of guiding questions identified from the literature that can help us focus on ‘interdisciplinarity’ are provided.

The practices we collected in this issue are not exclusive. There are many variations of interdisciplinary teaching and learning. One take-away message I learned from reading these articles and talking to the authors is that interdisciplinarity happens through knowing about the boundaries of one’s discipline, crossing the boundaries, and integrating the insights collected from the process to addressing an issue or tackling a problem. When we can bring this experience to our students, we are probably successful in facilitating interdisciplinary teaching and learning.

Would you like to share with us your opinion?
We are looking forward to hearing your opinions. Please email your views to us (tracyzou@hku.hk) or simply voice your opinion in the Poll through one click.

Would you like to contribute to future issues of Teaching and Learning Connections?
Please express your ideas through emails to tracyzou@hku.hk. I am happy to discuss with you and assist you in the publication process.

Preview of the next issue (Issue 6)
Issue 6 to be published by the end of September, 2017 will focus on innovations in teaching and learning. We have a broad definition of innovation, which may cover and is not limited to: innovation in pedagogy; embracing new technologies; new assessment practices; and new learning spaces.

Stay tuned with us.


Alice Lee
Dr. Tracy Zou

Editor of ‘Teaching and Learning Connections’
Assistant Professor
Centre for the Enhancement of Teaching and Learning
The University of Hong Kong

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