Showcase Higher Education Research and Development Society of Australasia 2015

Experiences convening 'Unravelling Complexity' – an interdisciplinary capstone course (#61)

Chris Browne 1 , Shayne Flint 1 , Richard Baker 1
  1. ANU, Canberra, ACT, Australia

Abstract Content (up to 300 words recommended)

 Unravelling Complexity is an interdisciplinary capstone course that encourages students to be bold in engaging with complex problems. Students from across the university bring their disciplinary background to a complex issue of their choosing, and are asked to examine and reframe their thinking about the issue through various lenses developed throughout the course. Academics and professionals help students develop these lenses by sharing their experience and approaches to solving problems in their field: from multidimensional knot theory to minority groups in stakeholder engagement; from the current debate around the collapse of the Roman empire to the ecological importance of scattered trees. Students are encouraged to creatively adapt concepts and overarching themes from speakers and resources as they undertake group project work and a learning portfolio.

 The course has run at the Australian National University for six years under three conveners. The course is fundamentally student-centred, with weekly student-facilitated tutorials and student-led Q&A sessions with disciplinary experts. It is clear to the current and past conveners, however, that the open-ended nature of uncertain and complex problems can be difficult for undergraduate students to navigate. Through grappling with different perspectives, students come to realise that complex problems cannot simply be solved, and that it is better to to embrace the complexity – interventions can be positive as well as detrimental, working across multi-disciplinary teams can be challenging and rewarding, and that when a problem is explored in detail more uncertainties arise. This has been repeatedly evidenced through their learning portfolios and group projects. 

In this paper, we discuss the issues surrounding coordinating Unravelling Complexity and share the successes of students that we have experienced, demonstrating their preparedness for life-long learning.

Addressing the theme/s of the Conference (up to 200 words recommended)

 This paper addresses the conference theme, Learning for life and work in a complex world, and directly addresses conference theme four, Navigating uncertainty and complexity. The creation of this course was at the urging of a former student union president who reflected that her university degree did not prepare her for the complexities of the real world. This insight was heeded by the then Vice-Chancellor, who supported the development of this course. The paper will discuss the issues around preparing graduates for a complex and uncertain future.

Download Presentation