22 SES 01 B, Teacher Training & Research
Over the course of the past decades, interdisciplinarity has become a focus of policy makers and funding agencies and there is increasing demand and encouragement for academics to produce knowledge in multidisciplinary or interdisciplinary collaborations and to convey knowledge to students in interdisciplinary teaching programmes (Cummings & Kiesler, 2005; Henkel, 2007; Holley, 2009). There are growing demands for universities to address societal challenges, which are of increasingly complex nature and can oftentimes no longer be approached with the questions asked and methods applied by single disciplines. Interdisciplinary knowledge production, on the other hand, is said to be able to lead to “cognitive advancements […] in ways that would have been impossible or unlikely through single disciplinary means” (Boix Mansilla & Duraising, 2007, p. 219), and is thus regarded as a means to solving these challenges.
Theories of a ‘Mode 2’ of knowledge production or of ‘post-normal science’, both anticipating increased collaboration and integration of the academic disciplines (e.g. Gibbons et al., 1994, Funtowicz & Ravetz, 1993) have existed for more than two decades. Yet, interdisciplinarity has still not fully arrived in universities and other research organisations. Quite the contrary: Weingart (2014) argues that the power and institutional reach of disciplines has remained impressively strong and is “constantly self-reinforcing”. Other authors claim that despite the increase in external demands and pressures, universities tend to approach interdisciplinarity as a trend rather than implementing comprehensive reforms (Rhoten, 2005), and pursue episodic financial incentives (Sá, 2008) instead of creating sufficient conditions to cause sustainable and lasting change.
While existing literature in the field of higher education does include many studies on academic collaboration and brings forward a broad range of assumptions of phenomena presumably constitutive of interdisciplinarity, there is a lack of understanding of processes that produce and transform interdisciplinarity relationships (Jacobs & Frickel, 2009). Moreover, when dealing with the topic of interdisciplinary structures, existing studies focus predominantly on top-down implemented structures such as interdisciplinary research centres – which lack traditional faculty boundaries – or graduate schools. Drawing upon theories of organisational change and –learning, social theories (e.g. Giddens’ structuration theory), and governance theories, this research project does therefore focus on facilitating an understanding of the emergence of interdisciplinary structures across traditional faculty boundaries at German universities. The following research questions are asked:
- What kind of interdisciplinary structures emerge in project settings for inclusive teacher training at German universities?
- Who participates in these interdisciplinary structures?
- Who initiates the emergence of interdisciplinary structures?
- Which factors inhibit or promote the emergence of interdisciplinary structures?
An ethnographic, single case study of a project for inclusion oriented teacher education at a technical university in Germany (funding periods: 2016-2019, 2019-2023) is employed. Ethnographic studies enable an in-depth study of social interactions, behaviour, and perception that occurs within groups, teams, organisations, and communities (Reeves et al., 2008). They can help to generate “local knowledge” (Gerring, 2011) by providing rich, holistic insights into people’s views, their behaviour, and the environment they inhabit, and can help to reveal power relationships within institutions (Smith, 1978). The case has been selected because of the broad range of actors involved (academics on different levels from various disciplines and faculties, members of the rectorate, and representatives of university administration). It is likely that this leads to dynamics of conflict between managerial and collegial decision making by incorporating elements of both bottom-up and top-down implementation and, as such, reflects organisational complexity of the university as a whole. Data collection includes part-time participatory observation during a variety of meetings and events throughout the project lifetime, targeted data collection through interviews and focus group discussions, and the collection of additional materials, such as project descriptions, protocols and proceedings of meetings and events, and website information. Interviews are conducted with a broad range of project participants in administrative and academic positions and from different academic ranks as well as different faculties and follow Witzel’s (2000) notion of problem-centred interviews. Focus group discussions are conducted with early- and mid-career researchers in the project and were chosen as a technique which is useful in order to explore topics that do not directly lend themselves to observational techniques, including, for example, personal experiences, attitudes, decision making, and interactions that occur within group settings (Morgan, 1988; Sim & Snell, 1996). Furthermore, participants are encouraged to be spontaneous in the expression of their views and to make connections that would not occur in individual interviews (Butler, 1966). Interviews and focus group discussions are voice-recorded and fully transcribed before analysis, which follows the logics of constructivist grounded theory (Charmaz, 2006).
At ECER conference 2019, I would like to present first findings, which are based on participatory observation and a first round of targeted data collection, consisting of a focus group discussion among early- and mid-career researchers in the project (June 2018) and 14 interviews with a range of project participants in different positions (August-November 2018). The findings will provide a first overview of the kind of interdisciplinary structures that emerge and who participates in them. While preliminary findings concerning barriers for the emergence of interdisciplinary structures (e.g. lack of time, differences in disciplinary cultures, pre-existing structures) are not surprising, our data points to interesting dynamics and conflict between bottom-up and top-down implementation as well as shift of agency from project leaders and the professoriate to early- and mid-career researchers.
Boix-Mansilla, V. & Duraising, E. D. (2007). Targeted assessment of students' interdisciplinary work: An empirically grounded framework proposed. The Journal of Higher Education, 78(2), 215-237. Charmaz, K. (2006). Constructing grounded theory: A practical guide through qualitative analysis. London: Sage. Cummings, J. N., & Kiesler, S. (2005). Collaborative research across disciplinary and organizational boundaries. Social studies of science, 35(5), 703-722. Funtowicz, S. O., & Ravetz, J. R. (1993). Science for the post-normal age. Futures, 25(7), 739-755. Gerring, J. (2011). Social science methodology: A unified framework. Cambridge University Press. Gibbons, M., Limoges, C., Nowotny, H., Schwartzman, S., Scott, P., & Trow, M. (1994). The new production of knowledge: The dynamics of science and research in contemporary societies. London: Sage. Giddens, A. (1984). The constitution of society: Outline of the theory of structuration. University of California Press. Henkel, M. (2007). Shifting boundaries and the academic profession. In M. Kogan & U. Teichler (Eds.), Key challenges to the academic profession (pp. 191-204). Kassel: Jenior. Holley, K. A. (2009). Interdisciplinary strategies as transformative change in higher education. Innovative Higher Education, 34(5), 331-344. Jacobs, J. A., & Frickel, S. (2009). Interdisciplinarity: A critical assessment. Annual review of Sociology, 35, 43-65. Reeves, S., Kuper, A. and Hodges, B. D. (2008), “Qualitative research methodologies: ethnography”, BMJ: British Medical Journal, Vol. 337, No. 7668, pp. 512-514 Rhoten, D. (2005). Interdisciplinary research: Trend or transition. Items and Issues, 5(1–2), 6–11. Sá, C. M. (2008). ‘Interdisciplinary strategies’ in US research Universities. Higher Education, 55(5), 537–552. Smith, L. M. (1978). 8: An Evolving Logic of Participant Observation, Educational Ethnography, and Other Case Studies. Review of research in education, 6(1), 316-377. Weingart, P. (2014) ‘Interdisciplinarity and the new governance of universities’ In Weingart, P. and Padberg, B. (Eds.), University experiments in Interdisciplinarity Obstacles and Opportunities (pp. 151–174). Bielefeld: Transcript. Witzel, A. (2000). The Problem-centered Interview. Forum: Qualitative Social Research, 1(1). Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.17169/fqs-1.1.1132
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