Professor Paul Kelly has described LSE100 as a laboratory for teaching and learning at LSE. In advance of a practice sharing event on the course, Dr Jessica Templeton, Deputy Director of LSE100, was interviewed by Dr Claire Gordon, Senior Academic Developer in LSE’s Teaching and Learning Centre
What is the value of an interdisciplinary approach to the study of the social sciences?
Complex issues like climate change, poverty and shifts in global power cannot be fully understood or addressed if analysed from only one disciplinary perspective. Interdisciplinary studies aim to help students blend the theoretical and methodological approaches of a range of disciplines, thereby expanding their analytical capabilities and enabling them to think more broadly and deeply about the multifaceted social issues that we face today. This is important no matter where our careers or lives take us. If we can recognise the assumptions that influence our thinking, we’ll be in a much better position to critique our own views, as well as the arguments of those around us, and to respond effectively.
Is there a particular notion of interdisciplinarity that underpins LSE100?
Multidisciplinarity, interdisciplinarity, and transdisciplinarity are common approaches to teaching and research these days, and people often use the same terms to mean different things. LSE100 lectures are multidisciplinary; the content of each lecture is grounded in a particular disciplinary perspective, and lecturers often explicitly address the discipline-specific assumptions, theories and methods that have informed their research. In the classes, however, we start to pull these different methods and ideas together into an interdisciplinary analysis of an issue. Interdisciplinarity synthesises ideas, methods and data, thereby consciously transcending disciplinary boundaries. For example, when we analyse the challenges of achieving global collective action on climate change, students combine insights from political science, IR and economics to create a coherent argument about what has gone wrong so far and how this might be remedied.
How has LSE100 evolved in the past five years, both from a pedagogical and from an interdisciplinary point of view?
LSE100 is continuously evolving as we learn from past experience and draw on new ideas brought by lecturers, teaching fellows and class teachers. When LSE100 started, we tried to take a more traditional multidisciplinary approach, seeking to broaden and deepen students’ understanding of social science by contrasting methods and theories. The problem we encountered is that it is very difficult to draw clear lines between different disciplines! Thus, we’ve come to embrace the overlaps between and diversity within disciplines by emphasising the different approaches that are taken by individuals in their research, and limiting the generalisations we make about the specific epistemologies of disciplines. There is value in distinguishing among disciplinary approaches, but divisions don’t always stand up to careful scrutiny.
In practice, lecturers often talk about the theories and methods they have used in their research, thus modelling for students the many ways in which social science is carried out. In classes, students have opportunities to try out many of these approaches themselves, as they develop evidence based arguments, carry out research projects, etc. We have found that the students embrace challenges – they are happiest (and most successful at learning, in our view) when they are given plenty of room to be creative with their arguments or group projects. Since its inception, LSE100 has sought to demonstrate to students how interesting it is to learn about things that are beyond our home disciplines.
Given the scale of the course, we also have to resist the temptation to “over structure” classes or projects. Students have the most fun, and produce the best work, when they take the methods and ideas presented in a module and run with them.
In what ways is LSE100 a laboratory for innovative teaching and learning at LSE?
We see this course as an opportunity to try out new approaches to teaching and learning. For example, we recently restructured the course, lengthening the duration of modules and replacing the traditional end of year exam with continuous assessment. Students now write two essays, carry out two group projects, and complete weekly questions designed to help them read more effectively and efficiently. At the end of each term they also write a brief reflection on their experience, which seems to help them recognise how much they have achieved in the preceding months. So far, the feedback from both students and teachers has been very positive. In particular, teachers have noted that students are much better prepared for class, not least because the new system eliminates the incentive to study “strategically” for an exam by selecting only a few topics for intensive study.
Crucially, the course is shaped by input from educators from departments and divisions across LSE. The range of ideas and input from this huge team of people helps us to ensure that we are constantly growing and drawing on different perspectives. We know that people who have worked with LSE100 in a variety of roles have taken their experiences into their teaching and research elsewhere in LSE and beyond, which is wonderful. We are eager to share our experiences (good and bad!) with others in whatever ways they find useful, and we hope that the course will continue to develop into a valuable resource for the whole of the School.
Innovative teaching and learning practice from the LSE100 laboratory, a practice sharing event for all academic staff, takes place on Thursday 12 November.