Annegrete Juul Nielsen, Department of Public Health, University of Copenhagen


Interdisciplinary teaching – experiences from the public health program at University of Copenhagen

Interdisciplinarity is gaining ground within the universities. New interdisciplinary programs are offered and interdisciplinarity is increasingly becoming a criterion for receiving research funding. Interdisciplinarity is associated with attractive qualities and possibilities such as tailored study programs, the best of different disciplines, new innovative knowledge etc. However, when something becomes an undeniably good, it raises questions among most researchers. For is it really possible that interdisciplinarity can harvest the best of all worlds? And what does interdisciplinarity at all entail? Is it sufficient to take different disciplinary perspectives on the same topic or does interdisciplinarity involve integration of disciplinary methods and knowledge? And what kind of requirements and options does interdisciplinarity teaching involve for students and teachers respectively?

In this paper I will discuss interdisciplinary teaching by first taking a closer look at existing definitions and typologies of the concept. Then I will go through selected research on interdisciplinary teaching and pinpoint some of the challenges to interdisciplinary teaching, which it has identified. From there I focus on a concrete example of interdisciplinarity – the public health program at the University of Copenhagen. Using mainly official documents I analyze how the program practices interdisciplinary in the different courses at bachelor and master level. On the basis of this analysis and my own experiences as a former student of and now teacher at the program I discuss the challenges attached to the current practice of interdisciplinary in the public health. My main argument is that the different types of interdisciplinarity are to be regarded a resource rather than an obstacle. More precisely, I argue that the public health program needs to practice different degrees of interdisciplinarity at different times and levels. However, the dividing point in this argument is that this needs to be done explicitly and not implicitly. The explication of the type and form of interdisciplinarity is necessary in order for interdisciplinarity not to be something, which is left for the students alone to handle or practice. This might be done by making interdisciplinarity an explicit learning objective in relevant courses and assignments.