Best Practice Inter- & Transdisciplinary Teaching

Project Details

  • Consortium:

    TU Wien – Multidisciplinary Design and User Research Group, Informatik

    Universität Wien – Technik- und Wissenschaftsforschung

    FH Campus Wien – Public Management

    FH Technikum Wien – Ecotoxicology & Environmental Management

Project Contact Information

  • Fabian Fischer, TU Wien


Interdisciplinarity, that is academic cooperation across disciplinary boundaries, is currently in demand and required from many sides: Research funding is increasingly explicitly directed at interdisciplinary consortia, and the world of work increasingly requires the interweaving of different disciplinary approaches and successful and effective cooperation in diversely composed teams. Consequently, interdisciplinary collaborations are becoming more and more established in the professional environment and in academic research.

Against this background, the present study addressed the question of how inter- and transdisciplinary teaching is practised at the partner universities of the Center for Technology & Society (CTS). The motivation for this was the assessment that the concepts of interdisciplinarity and transdisciplinarity are increasingly established in research, but rarely practised in teaching. The aim of this study is to provide an initial overview of the current status of interdisciplinarity and transdisciplinarity in university teaching, to identify the challenges that interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary teaching faces, and to point out possibilities for successful design and implementation in interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary teaching. The basis for this is ten qualitative interviews with teachers at the CTS partner universities.

Outcome Summary

As a result, the interviews showed that inter- and transdisciplinary teaching takes place in various formats. On the one hand, there are established soft skills courses. In this case, non-subject-specific content is brought closer to a homogeneous audience of students. The degree to which the content is linked to current research debates varies and the lecturers usually come from central organizational units. In other, smaller courses, however, interdisciplinarity and transdisciplinarity are organized by teachers from the faculty offering the course, and current academic debates play a central role. In this case, the teachers often bring interdisciplinary expertise with them. In the context of larger courses (10 ECTS and more), the teaching teams can be larger and thus several disciplines can be represented. Here, students from several fields of study are more often specifically addressed, which results in an interdisciplinary composition of the students. Finally, there are extension curricula that are often explicitly aimed at students from other disciplines, as well as explicitly interdisciplinary degree programmes. The latter are particularly established at universities of applied sciences, since here professional fields are used more for structuring than established academic disciplines.

Case-based learning has emerged as a core element of the didactic design of inter- and transdisciplinary teaching: The disciplines involved can enter into a fruitful exchange through concrete case studies. The case studies make it clear what contribution the respective disciplines can offer and where the respective expertise becomes effective. They also show where the limits of this expertise lie and where other disciplines and non-academic actors make a valuable contribution to current debates and issues. Details on how case studies can be used as well as further didactic methods for inter- and transdisciplinary teaching are presented in this study.

Furthermore, the study has shown that inter- and transdisciplinary teaching is confronted with several challenges and areas of tension. (1) Colleagues are sometimes reserved towards inter and transdisciplinary teaching, as the content is not always recognized as relevant (for the discipline). This form of teaching can therefore be exposed to increased pressure to justify itself. (2) With interdisciplinary content, there is often tension between networked and specialized knowledge. For teaching, it is important to be able to go into adequate depth in all disciplines involved. (3) Related to this, evaluation is challenging, as the focus is often on processes rather than factual knowledge. (4) Inter- and transdisciplinary teaching is often difficult to link with a clearly disciplinary academic career. Career advancement is often dependent on relevant disciplinary research and publications. (5) Transdisciplinary work can also be understood in contradiction to the freedom of research (and teaching). In the context of teaching, care must therefore be taken that student projects are not misunderstood as ready-made solutions to concrete problems, but that the focus remains on the learning process as the main task.

Recommendations can be derived from the study. Inter- and transdisciplinary teaching is often associated with additional work, for example when colleagues from different faculties have to be coordinated. Consequently, it is advisable to provide targeted resources, possibly at the rectorate level, to compensate for this extra work; this would also represent a sign of recognition. Targeted awards for interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary teaching as well as the explicit positive recognition of interdisciplinarity and transdisciplinarity in the evaluation of courses could also signal recognition. At the level of the curricula, it is also important to anchor interdisciplinarity and to maintain or expand extension curricula. Formats that support the networking of teachers across the institution(s) can be conducive to interdisciplinary teaching projects. Further training offers specifically for interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary didactics can offer teaching staff meaningful support. Finally, it should be noted that inter- and transdisciplinary teaching is often very innovative and should be revised and adapted iteratively and with the involvement of the students, for which institutional support is important.

This study is intended to contribute to making interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary teaching visible at the four partner universities of the CTS. The high level of personal commitment, motivation and innovative strength of the teachers with regard to inter- and transdisciplinarity should be emphasized. As this study shows, interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary teaching has many faces and takes many forms. The documented repertoire of methods should serve as inspiration for (not only) teachers interested in inter and transdisciplinarity. With this study, we would also like to offer an opportunity for networking among teachers, also beyond the individual universities. By highlighting structural problems that this teaching is often confronted with, we also want to provide concrete arguments to fight for their visibility and recognition.


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