The Academic Consultancy Training (ACT) is a capstone Master of Science course at Wageningen University (WU), undergoing a process of innovation. The ACT course design is transdisciplinary, in the sense that ACT by design engages collaboratively teams of WU students from diverse disciplinary backgrounds, and academic and societal actors, to respond to real-life complex societal challenges. Based on the feedback of the ACT students and the other actors engaged in the course and on the scrutiny of the course evaluations, the need emerged to innovate aspects of the ACT education (e.g. teaching materials, learning activities and strategies, etc.) in order to more explicitly foster transdisciplinary forms of learning, in line with the given ACT course design. This project answers this need. It focuses on developing innovative educational materials and activities that can boost transdisciplinary learning, and on researching the effects of the innovation.
ACT is a 9 ECTS course that is offered all year round, every two months. It engages every year almost 1,000 WU students from 19 diverse study programs, about 150 societal organizations, and over 100 WU staff people.
The aim of this project is twofold: 1. to foster ACT students’ transdisciplinary learning by developing innovative learning materials and activities; 2. to study the effect of the innovation and identify what helps cultivating students’ transdisciplinary learning in ACT.
The most significant results are:
- A new ACT step-by-step proposal development handbook (including also knowledge clips, exercises, etc.), and other materials like new assessment criteria and rubrics, etc. fostering transdisciplinary learning. Through those materials and related activities the complex field of transdisciplinary learning is made explicit and students’ learning is supported in an activating manner (find the handbook on the right at the downloads).
- A research study findings which indicates an overall satisfaction of ACT students, staff and commissioners with regard to our innovation. The study also helps to understand what are the ACT educational components and learning mechanisms that enhance or hamper transdisciplinary learning. Based on those findings, we can now further boost in ACT what already works well, and tackle what works less well. Those findings are elaborated in details in our research report (find the research study on the right at the downloads).
Our study reveals that there are 7 learning mechanisms, which we call learning drivers, that accelerate students’ transdisciplinary learning. When they are present, the drivers activate a positive chain of effects enhancing learning. They also help preventing or tackling learning challenges that may arise in the learning process, so in this sense the drivers have also a mitigating effect or can increase adaptability when challenges emerge.
Those 7 learning drivers are:
- Have transdisciplinary projects matching the teams
- Empower students to be in charge in the midst of challenges
- Transfer course procedures and standards
- Build trust and constructive relationships
- Enable students to navigate & integrate multiple perspectives
- Handle time constraints
- Embed staff circular learning communities
Details about each of those drivers can be found in the research study report at the downloads. Our research report findings can inform educators that plan to start or to innovate their transdisciplinary-oriented courses. Additionally, educators can make direct use of our available new handbook for proposal development, or other material we developed, as inspiration for developing similar courses or engaging in similar efforts.
We have fully implemented the new learning materials and related activities for fostering transdisciplinary learning. This includes a new step-by-step proposal development handbook and related knowledge clips and activities, new and revised (self-) assessment criteria and rubrics. Additionally, we implemented a preparatory training for coaches in order to boost their skills when coaching students throughout their ACT transdisciplinary work.
Furthermore we have performed an action research study to understand the effects of this innovation and identify possible next steps for further cultivating students’ transdisciplinary learning in ACT.
The proposal development handbook and the research study can be found at the downloads.