coggleKua takoto te manuka

The leaves of the manuka tree have been laid down

This proverb is used when being challenged, or you have a challenge ahead of you.


What is Interdisciplinary collaboration?

Jones (2009) states that “the interdisciplinary approach synthesizes more than one discipline and creates teams of teachers and students that enrich the overall educational experience.” Jacobs (1989) suggests this is achieved through having students “…examine a central theme, issue, problem, topic, or experience” (as cited in Mathison & Freeman, 1997). So, as I understand it, interdisciplinary collaboration is when professionals from more than one discipline collaborate on a thematic approach to teaching in order to facilitate a deeper learning experience for students.

On the surface it seems completely possible. The above mind map, for example, illustrates the various disciplines at my school. With the Humanities discipline in the centre, I have identified the other disciplines (or Faculties) within the school that I considered as having the potential to be able to work in an interdisciplinary way with mine. The criteria for each connection was my ability to conceptualise how each discipline could contribute discipline specific knowledge to a particular theme or context that we currently teach in Humanities. As I was completing the map, it became patently obvious that we could take an interdisciplinary approach. So, why haven’t we?

To add fuel to the potential fire, after watching this video on an interdisciplinary approach to teaching the theme of Power in the context of the Holocaust, I was inspired to ponder over how the approach might work for us in another context. Taking our Year 10 Social Studies Climate Change and Sustainability Unit, for example, Mathematics could look at Co2 emissions, weather and climate data; Science could look at the process of global warming, acidification, and the impact of climate change on ecosystems; Social Studies could look at impact, adaptation, global citizenship and social action; Marautanga could contribute a kaupapa Maori world view on the natural world and our role as kaitiaki; and English could look at producing an e-portfolio which synthesises the student’s learning into a cohesive presentation using digital media. Still sounding good.

Interdisciplinary co-operation is already occurring in our senior school between myself and our English Faculty. Senior assessment artefacts such as speeches produced by my Humanities students, have been shared on an adhoc basis with the English department. The theoretical benefit behind offering to “double up” in this way, is that the students would have more time to work on their submission in class and therefore, are more likely to produce a superior product. This suggests that there is the potential for greater collaboration, yet, there is no firm plan to do anything other than maintain the status quo.

Mathison & Freeman would have us believe that the socio-political climate over the years has seen the popularity of the interdisciplinary approach idea rise and fall, whereas Jones (2009) is more pragmatic, pointing out disadvantages “such as integration confusion and time-consuming curriculum preparation.” Entrenched structures (both physical and cultural), such as departmentalised buildings and discreet, compartmentalised periods of learning, makes the environment resistant to the cause as well. People’s professional identities are aligned with disciplines, so this kind of change may be challenging, perhaps even threatening, to some. This is where employing Mulligan’s model might assist.

Mulligans model.jpg

The articulation of the specific qualities, attitudes and other factors required for successful interprofessional collaboration between the Humanities and English faculties’ staff would ensure everyone starts the process on the same page.

Having identified the obstacles, it would seem that the changing winds are favourable at the moment, perhaps in response to the widely held perception that the demands of the 21st Century will require the innovative thinking, metacognitive awareness and critical practice skills that will result from interdisciplinary learning (Hardre et al., 2013). Afterall, Youngblood (2008) predicts a future of discovery and innovation (as cited in Jones, 2009) lies ahead for the interdisciplinary graduates.

Lacoe Edu (2014, Oct 24) Interdisciplinary Learning . Retrieved from

Mathison,S.. & Freeman, M.(1997). The logic of interdisciplinary studies. Presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Educational Research Association, Chicago, 1997. Retrieved from

Mulligan, L. (2015). A Conceptual Model for Interdisciplinary Learning. (2015). Retrieved from

Jones, C.(2009). Interdisciplinary approach – Advantages, disadvantages, and the future benefits of interdisciplinary studies. ESSAI7 (26), 76-81. Retrieved from



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