Visit to the University of Amsterdam

In January this year, I was invited to give a presentation at the Institute for Interdisciplinary Studies at the University of Amsterdam. I have met and been inspired by a number of members of the institute previously, so I was very honoured and excited to be asked to go and speak there by Linda de Greef and Lucy Wenting.

Unfortunately I was travelling with a fractured wrist, a broken suitcase and during some kind of monsoon-type weather, but the welcome from the team in Amsterdam, and especially the fantastic hosting by Linda made the trip really enjoyable.

Linda showed me around the facilities at the Institute for Interdisciplinary Studies in the Science Park. The building itself was well designed, spacious and somehow friendly. It reminded me a little of the Wellcome Trust building on Euston Road, but a little more relaxed and lived in. Much as I envied the space and facilities, I realise that the space available is a compromise available due to the slightly out of town location. Nevertheless, I fell in love with the building. It was so different to our space at Imperial – there were separate staff and student areas, with rooms for staff meetings, informal and formal. Lunch rooms, idea-sharing spaces and offices. Then there were staff-student interaction spaces – from discrete one-to-one meeting rooms to large teaching spaces. Finally there were plenty of student only working spaces.

This was one of my favourite rooms – a space designed for creativity and idea sharing.

I gave a lunch meeting (brown bag) talk titled ‘Seeking the Authentic: Grounding Our Approach to the Complex, Wild and Unfamiliar’. This was a slightly more developed and theoretically related version of a talk introducing the curriculum and delivery of the Global Challenges field of Imperial Horizons. I was able to think a little more creatively about ideas like ‘authenticity’ – at the moment drawing a lot from the work of Carolin Kreber.

Following this I took part in some very informal workshops, which allowed me to meet a whole range of different members of the institute, hear about their programmes, and discuss many interesting and tricky issues such as prestige (in terms of the alignment of interdisciplinary learning within traditional disciplinary tracks of study – moving through bachelors, masters and PhD study), assessment, organisation and collaboration.

I came away with many new ideas for curriculum development within my own programme, and am stuck into reading the work of Jacintha Scheerder on the Horizon Scan 2050 project for the Netherlands. I’ve been looking for something similar in the UK, but apart from some rather dry policy documents from 2014, using data from 2013, I haven’t found much. There is a blog from the Cabinet Office Analysis and Insight Team, which seems to draw together some ideas slightly related to ‘horizon scanning’, but that’s as far as I’ve got right now.

The following day we had a meeting of the UK based Interdisciplinary Curriculum Group, with a range of colleagues from across the Netherlands and Switzerland joining us on this occasion. As usual, it was an interesting and stimulating meeting.

Overall it was a really inspiring and exciting trip, which will keep me thinking, tinkering and developing over the next few months.

Leave a Reply