The Newsweek of Aug 25, 2008 featured an article on the campus of the future. Michael Crow is approaching the running of the school like a CEO would run a business. What is striking from this article is the abolishment of traditional departments and combining these functions into what he calls “transdisciplinary” institutes. His objective is to get experts in different fields to work together to solve problems by thinking outside their disciplines. For example, the new School of Sustainability features professors from 35 disciplines!
I recently had a discussion with a local university and a similar concept was discussed. While some universities still have very strict enrollment rules per department or course, these are normally more related to preventing an administration nightmare, than truly ensuring that the candidate has adequate foundation knowledge to progress in his/her new field of study. There are ways to navigate through these lines of study which can take a student from one field of graduate study to another field for post-graduate study. Is this regarded then as interdisciplinary, multidisciplinary, crossdisciplinary or transdisciplinary?
- Interdisciplinary refers to professions where the traditional academic boundaries are crossed and its goal is to connect or integrate the knowledge from the different disciplines to establish knowledge in a new field of study such as in the case of geobiology.
- Multidisciplinary refers to joining the knowledge from different disciplines without integration. The aim here is not to establish something new but to look at the same reality from different perspectives to explain the phenomena.
- Cross disciplinary discusses a subject in terms of another. It looks for metaphors or likeness to explain a concept or object in another language if you will, one that would be understood by someone trained in another field of study or discipline.
- Transdisciplinary uses the multidisciplinary approach with the difference of engaging these disciplines as stakeholders in solving a problem. It is not only viewing the reality from different perspectives to explain why the reality is such but is actually working together to overcome a problem without integrating the individual disciplines knowledge.