Dual and Interdisciplinary Programmes

Exterior of Firth Court, a University of Sheffield building, taken from the side of the building

These pages provide advice and guidance on the development and ongoing management of dual and interdisciplinary programmes delivered by more than one department.

Page break

This guidance should be read in conjunction with the University’s Policy on Duals and Interdisciplinary programmes.

Different types of programmes will require different approaches but it is essential that from the student perspective

  • The programme feels like a coherent course of study.
  • Students feel that they belong to a department(s) and/or a programme cohort.
  • Students have clear information about how they can access support from the departments contributing to the programme.

Designing and managing a programme which spans two or more departments means that additional effort needs to go into

  • liaison and communications with staff in contributing departments
  • communications and support for students to ensure that they know how to navigate their programme and the support available to them

The design of your programme is likely to be influenced to some extent by the contributing departments. At the same time it is important that the design enables students to feel that they are on a coherent course of study.

Page break

The Programme team

As a minimum, this is made up of an academic member of staff to lead from each department plus a member of professional services - usually an administrator from each department. The team is responsible for the planning, delivery and review of the programme. The team needs to meet regularly (the frequency and duration of meetings is likely to vary depending on the cohort size) during the year to discuss:

  • Overall programme design: module learning outcomes fit with overall programme outcomes, approach to assessment, embedding of skills
  • Timetabling
  • Procedures for release of exam results, submission of extenuating circumstances etc
  • Spacing of assessments
  • Individual student issues and cases
  • Course information
  • Inductions and Transitions
  • Programme review and evaluations
  • Consistency in access to student support across the two departments
  • Student communication

The programme team need to agree on who is responsible for all key areas of the administration of the programme.

Liaison between departments

Key areas for communications between departments

The following areas are essential to ensure the smooth organisation of dual and interdisciplinary programmes:

  • Timetabling - make sure this is done as early as possible and then communicate with other departments involved in the programme. Following this be clear about which optional modules students can and can’t take for logistical reasons.
  • Regulations review - again it is essential to communicate with other departments involved in the programme to ensure that all departments are aware of any changes.
  • When reviewing or developing a new programme, consider the impact on any duals / interdisciplinary programmes and liaise with the programme teams to ensure that the changes will continue to work for the dual or interdisciplinary programme.

Communications to staff who teach on modules contributing to a dual or interdisciplinary programme

Tell staff when they can expect dual / interdisciplinary students in their modules and give them access to the dual/ interdisciplinary programme outlines. They will then have a better idea of what assumptions to make about what students have already learned. This will help with planning teaching and communications with students on the module. There may be opportunities for staff to encourage students to reflect on connections with other modules during the module.

This is an area that requires careful and regular attention, particularly when there are changes in staff, cohort size and departmental culture.

Student support and Communications

Communicating to students

Consider what is the best approach to communicating to the cohort to ensure that students receive all the communications they need, while avoiding duplication.

Examples

MEng Structural Engineering and Architecture programme co-ordinator has regular meetings with dual student representatives and the whole cohort, as well as regular liaison with partner department tutors to ensure consistent messages are delivered.
Sheffield Methods Institute provide all the principal programme communications for their interdisciplinary programmes. Module specific information is then provided by the contributing departments.
MA Intercultural Communication and International Development: students are provided with information to help them navigate the two sides of the programme including what communications to expect, in what format and which department will send them, including any supervision arrangements etc.

Course information, induction and transitions

Dual / interdisciplinary students find it very helpful to have some induction activities as a programme cohort. (If you have a number of small cohorts of dual students, you might group students together for the purposes of induction). This is a good opportunity to familiarize students with
  • the rationale for the programme
  • disciplinary differences they are likely to experience between the different parts of their programme
  • how they can access support
  • guidance and advice about module choice
This information should also be included in student handbooks.

You might consider:

  • Inviting students from higher years of the dual programme to talk to new students, either about the programme in general or a specific aspect.
  • Mentoring schemes between students from different years.
  • Creating a postcard of key info that is handed out to all dual students, or shared with them electronically.

Similar activities are also helpful at the start of subsequent years to support students in making the transition from one year of study to the next.

Personal Tutoring

Consider what works best for the programme cohort to support a sense of belonging, as well as the academic and pastoral support students need. For instance, some departments allocate all dual students on a programme to a single tutor, or cluster students from a particular programme together with a small number of tutors with knowledge of the dual programme. Others choose to distribute students across tutors in the department for a more inclusive approach. In some departments the programme co-ordinator has a pastoral overview of all dual students.

As a minimum, it is good practice for students to have a named personal tutor in one department and a designated member of staff in (each of) the other department (s) from whom they can seek academic and personal support.

Student voice

  • Ensure that dual/interdisciplinary students are represented on departmental and faculty student - staff committees. It is good practice to have a representative from each programme on departmental SSCs.
  • Ask departmental student societies to consider the needs of dual / interdisciplinary students.

Examples

MEng Structural Engineering and Architecture students have established their own “Architeers” student society and collaborate effectively with other student societies in their two departments. As well as providing a voice for students on this programme the society also provides a sense of cohort identity.

Cohort identity/sense of belonging

One of the risks of dual and interdisciplinary degrees is that students don’t feel they “belong” anywhere. Staff involved with dual and interdisciplinary programmes have found the following work well to build a sense of cohort identity and belonging:

  • Giving all students on the programme the same “home” department
  • Programme-specific student societies
  • For interdisciplinary programmes to have a spine of core modules delivered by the home department
  • The programme lead teaching on at least one of the Level 1 core modules

Programme Design

Integrating the different parts of the programme

The amount of integration will vary depending on the nature of the programme. 

  • For dual programmes made up of two distinct fields of study, there may be little integration in terms of the content of the modules. Studying two different subjects is often what attracts students to these programmes.
  • For other interdisciplinary degrees where the programme aims include making connections across disciplines, the programme design and content should reflect this.

It is important to consider the balance of the two (or more) subjects across the programme. It may vary at programme level, but it is important that there is continuity of each area over the programme.

Where possible, consider creating opportunities for students to bring their learning from the different disciplines together. This is most often done in a dissertation or Final Year Project. Assessment types such as projects, dissertations, placements, portfolios all facilitate student choice and provide opportunities for them to bring together learning from different aspects of their course.

Examples

  • MEng Structural Engineering and Architecture: third year engineering students provide structural consultations for second year architecture students. Third year dual students experience this activity from both disciplines and find it very beneficial in connecting the two parts of their programme.
  • MA Intercultural Communication and International Development: a placement dissertation is run by Geography with supervisors from SLC. Dissertations are blind marked between the two departments. This requires a high level of communication between staff in the two departments, but is very valuable to the students in terms of providing a joined up experience.
  • MA Multilingual Information Management provides seminars to support students in making connections between a particular module and the programme as a whole. The assessment also reflects this.
  • Sheffield Method Institute's programmes’ spine of core modules delivered by their own staff ensure programme coherence and opportunities for students to integrate their learning from across the different modules that they take.

Team teaching is a great way to model and provide students with content from different disciplinary perspectives. Consider a joint teaching session with a member of staff from a different department or asking them to do one of the lectures for your module.

Supervision of final year projects and dissertations is an area that needs careful consideration. You will need to decide on the most appropriate balance between providing consistency in approach vs being able to provide subject specific expert supervision. The Sheffield Methods Institute (SMI) take the following approach:

  • UG programmes: the dissertation module is taught and individual students are supervised by SMI staff. This ensures that students get a consistent experience and opportunities to bring in all the learning from core modules delivered by the SMI. It means, however, that they are not necessarily supervised by an expert in their chosen area. Supervision focuses on the skills required to complete a dissertation in applied social sciences.
  • PGT programme: students do their dissertation within the department of their chosen topic. This gives them the benefit of being supervised by a subject specialist - considered to be more important at this level of study.

All dual and interdisciplinary programmes should have a single set of programme aims and objectives. The extent to which these are integrated will depend on the aims of the programme.

Naming Conventions

The UK Qualification Framework for Higher Education (untagged PDF) states the following conventions for naming dual programmes:

  • 'A and B' - where there is an approximately equal balance between the two components
  • 'A with B' - for a major/minor combination where the minor subject accounts for at least a quarter of the programme

Page break

Case Study

BSc/MPHYS Physics with Medical Physics - approaches and mechanisms in place to ensure programme coherence

Page break

Further information

Useful Links