Interdisciplinary Collaboration

Michael Mills and Carla Ghanem

The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UNSDG) Open Pedagogy Faculty Fellowship was from the beginning built on the idea of interdisciplinary collaboration.  It was believed that faculty working as part of a team with someone from outside their own area of expertise, though centered around a common theme, in this case a common SDG, would create assignments through a different lens. Additionally, this form of work generates a connection between disciplines and their relationship to the real world. Faculty would view any renewable assignments holistically and through the eyes of a student, who is not taking courses in simply one discipline, but may in fact be taking courses in as many as five disciplines in any given semester.

At the surface level, one might assume that faculty working across disciplines is any easy task.  Using their best collaboration skills, for example, faculty should be able to find common ground. In reality, however, it is not easy.  Faculty working in interdisciplinary teams are out of their comfort zone; they are ‘forced’ to partner with someone who is outside their department and who, in fact, they may not even know. Abbott (2001) says disciplines put boundaries on what is ‘real’ and what is relevant. Crossing those boundaries is a challenge (Frickel, 2016). Bendix (2017) suggests that what often happens in this interdisciplinary work are moral panics, status tensions and communication breakdowns.

By requiring faculty to work in teams as part of the open pedagogy fellowship, faculty must look beyond themselves and their own comfort. They have to look beyond the conflict and any disciplinary strife. When they do – and they do – the results are incredible collaborations fortified in the exceptional student projects.



Abbott, Andrew. 2001. Chaos of Disciplines. Chicago: University of Chicago Press

Bendix, Regina, et al. Sustaining Interdisciplinary Collaboration: A Guide for the Academy. University of Illinois Press, 2017. Project MUSE.

Frickel, Scott, et al. Investigating Interdisciplinary Collaboration: Theory and Practice across Disciplines. Rutgers University Press, 2016. Project MUSE.


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UN Sustainable Development Goals Open Pedagogy Fellowship by Michael Mills and Carla Ghanem is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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