Multidisciplinary teaching: an approach to active learning

The main goal of tertiary education is to develop knowledge about a certain discipline that can engender in students the capacity to analyse information and apply it to real life cases. To improve students’ understanding and make the learning process more productive and enjoyable, they need to experience the connection between different subjects of the respective curriculum.

The International Bureau of Education (IBE-UNESCO) specifies three major types of contemporary approach to curriculum integration: multidisciplinary, interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary.

  • Multidisciplinary curriculum is studying a topic from the viewpoint of more than one discipline and solving a problem using a different disciplinary approach (Klaassen, 2018). For example, reducing the CO2 emissions from a car can be achieved by studying how to develop fuel chemistry or by studying how to improve car engine performance.
  • Interdisciplinary curriculum is understanding theories that cut across disciplines and highlight the process and meaning rather than combining different discipline contents (Odeh et al., 2017). For example, the design of a medical device requires engineering skills as well as the knowledge of a specific human organ’s function.
  • Transdisciplinary curriculum is removing the boundaries between the core disciplines, integrating them to construct new context of real-world themes and introducing a sub-major stream course (Doyle et al., 2018). For example in the last century, mechanical engineering curriculum has been integrated with the electronics and computer engineering curriculum to introduce the mechatronics engineering curriculum, which is called now robotics.

Case study from SIBT engineering curriculum

A multidisciplinary task which combines two first year engineering units’ assignments was developed by SIBT and run over three sessions during 2017-2018. The combined assignment provides practice of programming principles to solve real life mathematical problems.

Major outcomes of the multidisciplinary assignment

The learning outcomes that can be achieved by this type of practice depends on the number of disciplines involved in it and kind of knowledge that needs to be addressed. In this study delivered at SIBT, students were asked to work on an assignment which allowed them to practice their computer and mathematics skills in one unified work. An example in the assignment involved estimating the surface area of the vertical airplane wing and comparing the accuracy of the mathematical model and the computer simulation results. Descriptive figures similar to the one below that illustrate the design case study are given to students with some hints on how and where to search for further information.

Students survey results

Two surveys were conducted before and after each assignment to get feedback on students’ satisfaction from both student cohorts (IT unit and Mathematics unit).

The impact of having this type of interdisciplinary work on students’ learning process was identified. The following learning outcomes were achieved by integrating a computer programming methodology in a real-life mathematics problem:

  • Apply self-teaching: This is achieved by guiding the students to the source of information they need to investigate and understand principles in mathematics and computer programming.
  • Develop practical skills: Learn how to apply the theoretical mathematical skills on actual engineering cases and use computer programming as a solution tool for highly accurate results.
  • Introduce problem-solving skills: This is achieved by analysing the assignment problem and comparing the results achieved by hand calculations and the developed computer code.
  • Connect academics: Improve the interaction and collaboration between the academics of different disciplines to share their thoughts on how to make the students’ learning process more exciting.

To continue the conversation, contact Saad Odeh, or share your thoughts and ideas via YammerTwitter or LinkedIn.

Other participants in this research work
J Hayne – Lecturer and Unit Convenor (Mathematics)
Dr M Qureshi – Lecturer and Unit Convenor (Programming)


  • Doyle, M., & Bozzone, D., 2018, ‘Multidisciplinary Teaching Providing Undergraduates with the Skills to integrate knowledge and tackle “Big” questions, The journal of the center for interdisciplinary teaching & learning, vol. 7, no. 1, pp. 12-17.
  • IBE-UNESCO 2018, General Education System Quality Analysis/Diagnosis Framework (GEQAF), Switzerland, viewed 14 September 2018, <>.
  • Klaassen, R.G. 2018, ‘Interdisciplinary education: a case study’, European Journal of Engineering Education, <>.
  • Odeh, S., McKenna, S., & Abu-Mulaweh, H. 2017, ‘A unified first-year engineering design based learning course’, International Journal of Mechanical Engineering Education, vol. 45, no. 1, pp. 47-58.