IFuL tempts students to think outside the box

19 December 2011

The integration of the Studium generale program in the new Bachelor's and Master's degree courses is in full swing. The Interdisciplinary Research and Teaching Division (IFuL) has designed its courses to encourage students to move outside their individual subject to question their own methods and learn about other working methods.

This is a concept that was already in place even before Bachelor's degree courses were introduced in Germany. "Our goal was always to have the Studium generale program firmly anchored in the individual majors," said Professor Andreas Cesana. "In the past, our efforts sometimes received too much support and sometimes too little. Right now it just right," the head of the Studium generale program said happily. His deputy, Dr. Edith Struchholz-Pommeranz, then added: "The restructuring of courses, with the introduction of the module system, means that integration is now much easier to realize. The courses are being redesigned as part of the Bologna Process. It's perfect for us, we sort of fit right in."

Specialists are important ...

Six Bachelor and 15 Masters majors now include Studium generale courses as part of their curriculums. These include not only humanities majors such as German, Philosophy and History, but also Biology. Students who complete a lecture series and an associated course from the Studium generale program offered through the Interdisciplinary Research and Teaching Division (IFuL) will obtain credit points toward their degree.

The IFuL courses focus on the traditional objectives of the Studium generale program: "There is no doubt that we need specialists," says Cesana, "but the big problems are too complex to master through simple analysis. Once you get stuck in a particular academic mind-set, you will have been reduced to a single perspective. We are always looking for new opportunities to promulgate interdisciplinary activities."

... but so is an interdisciplinary approach

The concept is primarily promoted through the courses that accompany the three big lecture series that the Studium generale program offers every semester - and simple but effective techniques are used to achieve this aim: "We make sure that the groups are small and consist of no more than 25 students," says Struchholz-Pommeranz. "It is within these groups that we strive to generate a dialog between the various academic disciplines." Students from the various departments interact and talk not only about their research but also their methods. "Valuable discussions are the result."

However, this does mean that the Studium generale team has an increased workload and needs to adopt a different approach. "Our courses represent a quite unique sector that poses challenges to both teaching staff and students."

Not for beginners

Students who are just starting a Bachelor's degree course are not yet ready to face the corresponding challenges - it is advisable for these to wait until their third semester. "The Master's degree students are a completely different kettle of fish," states Struchholz-Pommeranz. "They already know more, have a degree, but their previous education was completely different and a lot of what we offer is foreign to them."

There are four underlying themes that students are confronted with. The first is a consideration of the question "what exactly is scholarship?" "Where there is scholarship, there is also the need to think about what fundamentally constitutes it," explains Cesana. The second theme is that of argumentation, logic and rhetoric. "We tend to focus more on logic than rhetoric." This is followed up by a consideration of culture and cultural interactions. "For example, the concept of scholarship as it is understood in Korea is completely different from how we view it here." And the fourth area is ethics.

More tasks and more employees

It has been possible to create two additional posts in the Studium generale department under the provisions of the Higher Education Pact. Because of all of its new duties, the team needs these people. "It is not as if we are here only for the students," stresses Cesana. Quite the opposite: "We hope that the Studium generale program will continue to lure interested members of the general public to the university." The comprehensive program provided every new semester is evidence of this objective. The extensive variety of activities on offer can be considered to at least provide some consolation for the fact that several of these are now targeted specifically at students.