Transdisciplinary Modules - A Student Perspective

Mar 08 2023 Posted: 13:33 GMT

As part of the Designing Futures informational lunchtime series on Tuesday, March 7, guests were invited to hear about the student experience with our Transdisciplinary Module approach. This was a great opportunity to learn more and gain some insight into what elements of the modules are having an impact and to garner some informal feedback. We were lucky to have a student, Ryan Bradley, who was willing to offer some insights. Ryan partook in a few of our modules; Introduction to Sustainability, Megatrends and the Global Engagement Module also.

After introductions from Professor Jonathan Levie, Dr David Doolin then briefly outlined the general approach we are taking with the transdisciplinary modules, which aim to develop new knowledge by combining insights across and beyond the disciplines. Furthermore, our modules aim to highlight multiple transversal skills, attributes and dispositions. To achieve that, several modules have elements that encourage a practical application of student learning, with a challenge-based learning approach and/or project based assessments. In addition, the modules keep track of individual progress through continuous assessment elements, for example with discussion board forums, reflection papers, journals and student presentations.

What we're hoping the students will take away, is that they become active agents in their learning through these modules and they will think about the application of their disciplinary knowledge, as well as recognizing the practical skills being highlighted, through project work or project-based assessments. Students are encouraged to engage with collaborative approaches to problems and challenges and are introduced to teamwork also. So, with Ryan’s insights and contribution we got to “hear it from the horse’s mouth” as the saying goes, and one student’s take away, which bodes well for our modules’ successes to date.

Ryan is an Irish Army officer and as he explained himself, he has been lucky enough to be able to return to University to complete an undergraduate degree. He is currently a final year student of a Bachelor of Arts degree in history and geography. His motivation for engaging with Designing Futures’ Transdisciplinary Modules, he explained, was informed by a desire to learn more about the global picture given that his future work will require a deep knowledge of international affairs, working in such close proximity with the United Nations, the myriad of different peacekeeping missions as well as the various councils across the UN, that he will encounter.

To quote Ryan directly, “I think for my sort of future career when I had the opportunity to come back and see these modules being offered to me at the start of the year, I felt I could get a lot out of them.” Apart from highlighting some of the insights about the content students’ were asked to examine in all three modules, Ryan said that “[…] the main areas of the three modules that I enjoyed the most would have been getting to work with students from different academic backgrounds and listening to their points of view on the range of topics that we covered. For example, in the mega trends module, we had a conference at the end of the year. This conference involved many weeks of research into a topic that we were able to choose ourselves. And it meant that we could decide what we wanted to learn and then like-minded individuals could get together, put our heads together and come up with a presentation on our chosen topic.” Ryan also referred to the transversal, hands on skills that were also embedded into modules, such as video editing, video production, and public speaking in front of large groups at the end of year conference. The use of things like discussion board forums were also highlighted as tools that allowed for further engagement with class peers and peer learning was an important takeaway from the modules for Ryan.

Ryan mentioned the positive experiences of learning from different speakers that came into the modules, and that having speakers outside of his discipline meant he definitely learned a lot from this approach. In his own words, “The weekly guest speakers was a refreshing change to what I was used to before and allowed me to gain first-hand insight into many social issues and perspectives I would otherwise not have had a chance to learn about. […].”

To dig a little deeper some of our listeners raised some follow up questions, that allowed for further insights and considerations. Ryan revealed that his participation in, and what he learned from our modules, helped direct him towards his choice of topic for his final year dissertation.  A further question that came up was, “did you feel you had an opportunity to connect with your fellow students more and work more in a in a team or collaborative way versus some of the other modules that you've taken in your programme?” The answer was an emphatic “Most definitely. I think all three of the modules would have been very project driven. So having that sort of chance to cross pollinate with different people from different academic backgrounds, was definitely invaluable to me. I remember even outside our own group, we were conversing with other groups, for example, just to be able to sort of get more information or more sort of knowledge […]. […] it even transcended your own group and that you were working with so many others as well.”

A further question that Ryan was asked to respond to, was what advice he might give with regards to the added value of this transdisciplinary approach? He cogently replied that “[…] it's clear to see that a lot of work goes into getting different guest speakers in every week to speak to students. But I think that the thing that you need to take from that is that you're going into the class knowing that it's going to be something completely different from week to week. And that, as a concept, it definitely encourages you […] it is really refreshing and I think especially for younger students as well, I think to be able to go into something and learn something completely new from week to week, that is invaluable. […]. I think it increases the anticipation, but definitely increases engagement as well because every concept is new and for a lot of the concepts it's your first time, getting to experience them.”

Ryan concluded his insights for our listeners and for the team at Designing Futures by saying: ”In summary, I just like to say I'm very happy to have had the chance to be involved in these three transdisciplinary modules. […]. I look forward to bringing in what I've learned, into my career and I would highly recommend them to anyone who has an interest in the future […].” We very much appreciated the time Ryan voluntarily offered to participate in the lunchtime series, speaking in front of academics and senior administrators from the University, which can be sometimes unnerving for all of us, never mind from the student position. So huge credit and a huge thanks to Ryan Bradley for such an insightful talk.

To come to a final conclusion then, as the Akari deadline fast approaches, the other main update from Designing Futures in our Transdisciplinary Module space is the roll out of some new module offerings, alongside those modules that have already proven successful and increasingly popular. While this is not the space to go into all of the modules in any great detail, as always, the Designing Futures team is only too happy to speak in more detail with anyone who wants to reach out and garner more information. For now, we are excited about the prospect of launching SIX new modules in the coming academic year, 2023-24. Those titles include: “Fail better: taking risks and developing resilience through circus;” “Revolutionary technologies: from steam to green;” “Empathy into action;” “Cultural heritage and public history;” “Career Development and employability skills;” and “‘Sastacht Saoil’ exploring well-being.” We are also continuing with the 8 modules that are moving into at least a second iteration and more. The first five modules are relatively well established and proving popular with students year on year: “Introduction to sustainability;” “Megatrends;” “Design your life;” “Design thinking;” and “Communicating through storytelling.” We are also continuing three modules, each going through their second iteration, with a slight rebranding in their titles: “Scalable, big ideas (formerly Scalable Technology-based Innovation);” “Navigating the digital world, (formerly ‘Digital Citizenship’); and “Intercultural Encounters” (a rename of the Global Engagement module).

Please visit our website for more information about Designing Futures and our current Transdisciplinary modules and please reach out to us to learn more about the new offerings that (all going to plan) will be delivered for 20023-24.

Follow @GalwayDF