Digital Humanities MA/MSc showcased at NAIRTL/LIN Conference

By Julianne Nyhan, on 15 October 2010

The annual conference of Ireland’s National Academy for the Integration of Research, Teaching and Learning (NAIRTL) and the Learning Innovation Network (LIN) took place in Dublin, Ireland on 6-7 October. My colleagues from University College Cork, Dan Blackshields and James Cronin, and I gave a paper at it that addressed some of the conditions that university lecturers and facilitators need to create in order to scaffold ‘integrative learning’ in their students.

Howard Gardner (2009) argued that the synthesising mind will be the most important mind for the 21st century. He suggests that we need to re-think the way we think, and by implication how we learn and teach. An important research topic in the field of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL), integrative learning aims to ensure that ‘students in higher education can make meaningful connections within and between disciplines, for example by integrating on-campus and off-campus learning experiences, and tying together and synchronising different perspectives and ways of knowing’ (Higgs et al. 2009) .

In the literature, a number of factors are argued to be essential to both the synthesising mind and the fostering of it. These include, inter alia, the importance of critical thinking, the necessity of authentic assessment and learning experiences as well as the role of self- reflective and self-directed learning strategies. Drawing on a sustained, asynchronous conversation that we held in an online workspace during Summer 2010, our paper sought to ask “what is at stake for facilitators of integrative learning?”. In our presentation we focused on the integration of our various disciplinary perspectives and experiences in order to explore the dynamics of disciplinary identity, language and collaboration through the critical frame of integrated learning.

To close, UCL’s new MA/MSc in Digital Humanities was showcased. This will offer students an interdisciplinary programme and the possibility of taking modules in subjects such as Information Studies, Computer Science, Engineering, Archaeology and the Built Environment. The curriculum will be a research-led one that nevertheless enables students to gain significant real-world experience through work placements. This integrative ethos will be further enhanced by the close collaboration that will take place with the facilities offered by UCL Library Services, notably Special Collections, and of UCL Museums and Collections, whilst liaising closely with a variety of world-class, London based libraries, archives and museums within the vicinity of UCL.

Reflecting afterwards on our paper, my colleague Dan Blackshields remarked on the potential of “Digital Humanities to reveal the fissures in disciplinary thinking and enable the learner to give a vigorous shake to their sense of what is real. To paraphrase Brian Greene with regards to the role of art – jarring the disciplinary imagination into imagining new things”. Please do feel free to contact us with your comments and experiences!


Gardner, H., 2010. Building the 21st Century Mind (Gardner in Conversation with Jonah Lerher), Scientific American, March 17th 2009.

Higgs, B, Kilcommins, S. and Ryan, T. (eds.) (2010) Making Connections: Intentional Teaching for Integrative Learning. Cork: NAIRTL.