Setting parameters for developing undergraduate expertise in transdisciplinary problem solving at a university-wide scale: a case study

Gabriele Bammer, Chris Browne, Christopher Ballard, Natalie Lloyd, Alison Kevan, Nicholas Neales, Terhi Nurmikko-Fuller, Sean Perera, Isha Singhal, Lorrae Van Kerkhoff

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    As part of a curriculum reform process, The Australian National University (ANU) is introducing a universal undergraduate requirement that responds to decades-long calls for universities to take seriously the development of expertise in the transdisciplinary problem solving required to address the major challenges facing society. Described here are the process and outcomes of the deliberations of the working group tasked with setting parameters for the implementation of this expertise. The working group identified relevant context, including that the requirement has to work for all of the University’s 13,000 undergraduate students, allowing them to tailor coursework in transdisciplinary problem solving according to their disciplinary choices, personal interests and career aspirations. The expertise is to be developed in existing and new courses, featuring small classes with flexible interactive delivery and should build on the University’s comprehensive coverage of academic disciplines and fields, along with the university’s strong track records in transdisciplinary research and education. The working group developed an ANU framework for transdisciplinary problem solving, focused on the following six characteristics: change-oriented, systemic, context-based, pluralistic, interactive and integrative. How these characteristics can be translated into learning outcomes is demonstrated, along with relevant ways of teaching. The working group highlighted two key challenges that those involved in the mechanics of the implementation will have to deal with and proposed a way forward for the first of them. One is for students to be able to readily identify relevant courses. The working group proposed a tag-and-points system, with the ‘tag’ identifying courses relevant to transdisciplinary problem solving and ‘points’ indicating the number of characteristics covered and the depth of that coverage. The second challenge is coordination across courses to minimise duplication and maximise the opportunity to keep building skills. The paper concludes by summarising key areas that may be useful to others deliberating on the expertise required for university graduates to effectively contribute to addressing societal challenges, as well as how universities can best foster the development of that expertise.
    Original languageEnglish
    JournalHumanities and Social Sciences Communications
    Publication statusPublished - 2023

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