Cross-disciplinary teaching is one of the most
important and complicated issues in pedagogy
characterised mainly by specialisation and the
appearance of new disciplines today. In this new
reality, there is a big need for courses that provide
students with a wider view of lateral connections
When dealing with cross-disciplinary teaching, it
is first necessary to clarify the distinction between
disciplinary courses and cross-disciplinary courses.
Disciplinary courses usually deal with a specific field
of knowledge, delving relatively deep into details and micro aspects. It is more focused on a specific
field of knowledge and less with the 'big picture'.
On the contrary, cross-disciplinary courses deal
with connections, interrelations and interactions
between different fields of knowledge. These courses
are more general in character and they can be called
These two kinds of courses are important, interdependant
and interrelated. Both give students a high
level of understanding. However, it is much harder
to teach cross-disciplinary courses successfully
a. Cross-disciplinary courses require teachers with
a broad interdisciplinary knowledge. In this era of
specialisation, it is relatively rare to find people
who have studied laterally and are able to think
in a cross-disciplinary manner.
b. Academic institutions traditionally encourage
disciplinary research. The low number of cross-disciplinary
researches compared to disciplinary
researches is an impor tant indicator of the
situation despite the growing tendency towards
more cross-disciplinary research.
c. Cross-disciplinary theories are rare and existing
ones are not well-assimilated into the area of
d. Objectively, it is much complicated to teach crossdisciplinary
In an era characterised by rapid accumulation of
new information, cross-disciplinary theories can
help teachers and students control, manage and
understand large amount of information better.
Such theories can also contribute to the creation of
new systems and processes with cross-disciplinary
Few cross-disciplinary theories have been developed
throughout history. Amongst these theories, it seems
that the system theory by Bertalanfy (1968) (and
others who later developed this theory) is the most
fundamental one that can be turned into a basic tool
for developing cross-disciplinary understanding. I
shall discuss how the potential of the system theory
and its developments can help in teaching and
understanding cross-disciplinary thinking.
The system theory is an interdisciplinary theory
that analyses the theoretical and practical properties
of systems from a cross-disciplinary point of view.
The theory integrates principles and concepts from
many fields of research such as biology, chemistry,
thermodynamics, engineering, social sciences,
ecology among others. It deals with the definition and
analysis of systems, typology of different systems
and behaviour of systems in different conditions and
environments. The theory also stresses the relations
between the parts and offers a holistic perspective.
Terminologies of interdisciplinary properties (e.g.
complexity, stability, entropy, energy, time, feedback,
dynamics of systems) are introduced and analysed. It
is important to note that the applications of system
theory can be found today in many fields and
activities (e.g. Beer, 2004; Mosseri, 2005).
The system theory can be included in crossdisciplinary
courses or cross-disciplinary knowledge.
It is important to note that this kind of knowledge is
important especially for interdisciplinary professions
like medicine, architecture, ecology, town planning
One of the most important questions in using
the system theory is: when is the right time in
the teaching process to introduce this kind of
knowledge? Should it be given at the beginning or
the end of the studies? Past experience shows that
each alternative has its own advantages. Exposure
to such knowledge at the beginning of the studies
gives students an overall introduction and crossdisciplinary
vision at an early stage without specific
knowledge. Introducing system theory into at the end
of the studies is also advantageous as students would
already have possessed a relatively large amount of
knowledge and it is then much easier for them to
develop cross-disciplinary thinking. However, the
problem here is that the 'big picture' is only achieved
at the end of the teaching process. A combination of
these alternatives can be a possible solution.
The system theory and its importance in crossdisciplinary
teaching need to be further investigated
in the future based on the initial ideas introduced in
Beer, S. (2004). 'Man in Garrulous Silence'. Kybernetes: The
International Journal of Systems and Cybernetics. Vol. 33 , Nos.
3-4, pp. 809-827.
Bertalanfy, L.V. (1968). General System Theory. New York: George
Mosseri, A. (2005). 'Integration of Science and Art in Architectural
Studies in the Information Era'. In Kungolos, A.G.; Brebbia, C.A.,
Beriatos, E. (Eds.), Sustainable Development and Planning II, Vol.
2, pp. 1401-1410. Bologna: Wit Press.