Crossover courses a hit with AUS students

Interdisciplinary courses are being planned at the American University of Sharjah.

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SHARJAH //A pilot scheme in which students can combine disciplines such as physics and history has been such a success it will double in size for the next academic year.

Since September, the American University of Sharjah (AUS) has offered crossover courses run jointly by its colleges of arts, sciences and architecture, art and design.

Academics say the project, the first of its kind in the UAE, benefits both students and staff.

The courses are oversubscribed with students and teachers.

"We have too many faculty wanting to do it now and an oversupply of students interested, which is a good problem to have," said Dr Mark Rush, dean of the college of arts and sciences.

From September, the pilot will double to 140 students and offer a broader range of subjects.

Dr Pia Anderson, an archaeology lecturer, has been working with a colleague from the physics department on a course focusing on using X-ray technology to examine archaeological artefacts.

"I've learnt things as we've gone along and the physicists get to understand what we archaeologists need," she said. "A lot of people didn't think the disciplines would go together but we need science to do what we do."

Dr Nasser Hamdan, a physics professor, designed the course to be accessible for students of a wide range of subjects, from business to engineering.

"It took a lot of effort from our side to bring the level of physics down to the level of the students," he said. "We mainly gave them the main concepts but without the complex aspects. It was more difficult for us to put the course together than it was for the students to handle the material."

The students examined artefacts such as first-century pottery, bronze arrowheads from Meliha in Sharjah and third-century jewellery. They also learnt the methodology behind the physics and archaeological investigation.

Students were told about the context of the objects, relating the science to the history, their social purpose at the time and manufacturing techniques.

Dr John Battenburg has been teaching a course about the symbolists of the 19th century. The performing arts expert teamed up with an English lecturer.

"Because AUS is a young university, it makes it easier to do this," he said. "It's not like we've been around for years and people are used to doing things one particular way. It's a good time to do this as the university isn't in survival mode."

The initiative, based on the American liberal arts system of education, is unique in the region, although interdisciplinary collaboration is catching on. But at many other institutions, while students can take a variety of subjects, teaching in each covers just one field.

* This article has been corrected since it was published. A previous version of this article misidentified the speaker as John Perkins, when he was in fact John Battenburg.