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Institutionalising Interdisciplinary Work in Australia and the UK. Prof Paul Blackmore & Dr Camille B Kandiko King’s Learning Institute, King’s College London Australian Association for Institutional Research Forum November 2008 Canberra, Australia. Outline of presentation.

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institutionalising interdisciplinary work in australia and the uk

Institutionalising Interdisciplinary Work in Australia and the UK

Prof Paul Blackmore & Dr Camille B Kandiko

King’s Learning Institute, King’s College London

Australian Association for Institutional Research Forum

November 2008 Canberra, Australia

outline of presentation
Outline of presentation
  • Background and framework
  • Methodology
  • Findings
  • Conclusions
  • Future research
  • As both teaching and research are increasingly interdisciplinary, how do universities successfully lead and manage this complex process?
  • Effective collaborative relationships hard to establish
  • Structural problems to surmount
  • Socio-cultural and epistemological differences
forms and practices of disciplinarity
Forms and practices of disciplinarity
  • basic characteristics
  • shared theories or ideologies
  • common techniques
  • socio-cultural characteristics (Becher, 1990)
a discipline
A discipline
  • “ any comparatively self-contained and isolated domain of human experience which possesses its own community of experts”
  • (Nissani, 1997)
  • Knowledge, methodology, community
  • “a means of solving problems and answering questions that cannot be satisfactorily addressed using single methods or approaches” (Klein, 1990)
  • Requires integration
issues in interdisciplinary work
Issues in interdisciplinary work
  • recruitment
  • motivation
  • communication
  • reward systems
  • management
framework of the study


Interdisciplinarity as a situated, socially accomplished flow of organizational activity

Practitioners: Skilled, knowledgeable actors inside and outside the university

Practices: Administrative, discursive, episodic

Framework of the study
  • This study adopts Jarzabkowski’s (2005) activity-based strategy as practice method
  • Literature review
  • Ten in-depth semi-structured interviews of interdisciplinary leaders at KCL and Melbourne
  • Appreciative inquiry
    • why engage?
    • what works?
    • principles for effective practice
findings accounting for time
Findings: Accounting for time
  • “the day to day running of teaching loads, and so those of us with split appointments are actually doing in excess of what we should be doing, and there’s a double load of meetings” 
findings computer identity
Findings: Computer identity
  • “the whole thing is run on a computer system that only sees you having one identity”
findings restructuring
Findings: Restructuring
  • “So what I’ve done is I’ve reorganised the way the single disciplines are taught, so that students can take the most productive combination. So that the students will start to see the links, even if some of the staff don’t. So, simple timetabling and setting priorities can assist me”
findings e management
Findings: E-management
  • “Our new school was not formally constituted until about three weeks ago. We’re trying to run this big interdisciplinary subject with, you know, very complicated teaching arrangements, and tutorials and payments and so on. The manager of the school did not have access to [the computer system] until halfway through the semester, and to do that she had to sign on as a temporary staff member, even though she’s been here for 34 years”
findings administration
Findings: Administration
  • “As far as working cross faculty is concerned, never mind cross discipline, cross faculty, in the end, it is probably not the ideas, which need to be fine tuned, but it is the administrative processes, which make it easier to collaborate. Like mutual recognition of subjects, perhaps of carrying double numbers, call [course] numbers, as it were”
findings logistics
Findings: Logistics
  • “I keep being asked for some, please explain again, sort of things. Why do you need laboratory chairs, for instance? Well, we actually have a laboratory and lab benches [laughs] and, you know, so we need them”
system level funding
System level - funding
  • Difficulties writing interdisciplinary grants
  • Fitting interdisciplinary work into national assessment schemes (RAE in UK)
  • Challenges of aligning interdisciplinary work with national funding councils
institution level recognition
Institution level - recognition
  • Issues with traditional discipline-based reward systems:
    • mode of publication: e.g. government report rather than journal article or book
    • location of publication: generalist rather than specialist journal
    • time frame: interdisciplinary work takes time to develop
    • publication in peer-reviewed journals using unfamiliar literatures

A risky business best left till later?

institutional level ir
Institutional level: IR
  • Computer systems often lock staff into one school or department
  • Issues with accurately counting teaching loads across faculties/schools
  • Accounting for primary, secondary, tertiary identities on campus (offices, addresses, budgeting)
faculty school department level
Faculty, school, department level
  • Tribal academic disciplines
  • Administrative issues:
    • finance
    • course registration
    • time-tabling
    • computer systems
  • “It is quite difficult to teach interdisciplinary courses … with different timetables, for instance, or different habits, different expectations, different cultures, perhaps of contact, or different entry level requirements.”
conclusions challenges
Conclusions: Challenges
  • Interdisciplinary work challenged by practices
    • lack of culture of going outside one’s own department
    • current academic fads and trends
    • budget crunches
  • Administration often organised on disciplinary and departmental lines
    • financial and prestige awards
    • course scheduling
    • computer systems
conclusions promoting interdisciplinary work
Conclusions: Promoting interdisciplinary work
  • Promotion and tenure criteria important for early career academics
  • Linking academics with similar interests
    • Internal research databases
    • “Find an Expert”
  • Ability to go sideways in the university and maintain status is crucial for all academics
future directions
Future directions
  • Questions for university staff, including administrators, academics and those in leadership positions include:
  • How can researchers recode, reclassify and reorganise departments, divisions and centres to promote interdisciplinary working within existing university structures?
  • Are there new methods of accounting for and allocating faculty time, including research points, teaching loads, and university service commitments?
  • What can be done on campus and electronically to connect researchers across the university?
  • How can faculty members be keyed into databases to reflect their positions, including multiple appointments in departments, research centres, schools and faculties?
  • How can interdisciplinary teaching be promoted throughout the university, including faculty reimbursement, time-tabling, cross-listing courses, and requirements from students?
future directions27
Future directions
  • Communities of best practice
    • Consortium of 10 universities in the US
    • Meeting of group of London universities
    • University-wide symposia at KCL
  • Research groups
    • Administrative issues
    • Academic issues
  • This study was funded in part through a grant from the Leadership Foundation for Higher Education.
  • Becher, T. (1990). The counter-culture of specialization. European Journal of Education, 25(2), 333-346.
  • Becher, T. & Trowler, P. R. (2001). Academic tribes and territories: Intellectual enquiry and the culture of disciplines (2nd ed.). Buckingham: The Society into Higher Education and Open University Press.
  • Jarzabkowski, P. (2005). Strategy as practice: An activity-basedapproach. London: Sage Publications.
  • Contact information:
  • Camille B. Kandiko
  • King’s Learning Institute
  • King’s College London, UK
  • Thank you!