By Leanne Goodall

Are OU students better off sticking to a single subject or combining fields?

There’s been a long running debate about this subject. What’s better for students: a module which focuses purely on one subject or one which combines several subjects from similar fields?

The first two modules of my degree were interdisciplinary, my third was pure history and I’m currently doing another interdisciplinary module. I didn’t actually realise that my first module came under the heading of interdisciplinary. It was an Introduction to the Social Sciences which focussed on a blend of sociology and psychology with a touch of criminology thrown in. It was a fascinating course and gave me a good insight into the world of the social sciences but I can’t say that I came away with a great understanding of which elements and methods applied to each subject. What I did learn was that case studies could benefit from a range of approaches from all of those disciplines. The knowledge that I gained was a more of a general knowledge but I suppose on a module which is titled as an ‘introduction’ then that’s exactly what I should expect.

The module diversity was brilliant

My second module was AA100: The Arts Past & Present which included subjects focussed on eight different disciplines. This time I hadn’t wanted to choose an interdisciplinary module but it was compulsory. I naively thought it would be a little pointless but understood it was a necessary part of my degree. In actual fact it was the diversity of that module that I found utterly brilliant. Not only did I have an excellent range of things to study but I learned how each of the disciplines connected to each other. I gained an understanding of each subject and what might be involved in further study of the fields. I learned to appreciate all of the arts as well as understand the world and its history better in general. The benefit of this interdisciplinary module was something that I would never change if I had my time again.

The third module was A200: Medieval to Modern and focussed solely on History. It was through studying this module that I feel I really grew within my field. I learned so much more about how to study History and got quite an in-depth view. I was taught the skills that I need to go forward with History and came away confident at doing it. For me, studying just one subject gave me a better understanding and a richer experience.

Should I stick to one subject?

I’m now on A207: From Enlightenment to Romanticism which is again an interdisciplinary module but I’m currently undecided as to if that was the best choice or not. My first subject of study was music history (opera) which was surprisingly enjoyable but as I had no prior experience of studying opera my marks were lower and my confidence got knocked. Now I’m left wondering if it would have been better to stick to one subject. If I had studied another pure history module then I would be able to develop and hone in my skills further. Instead I’m trying other things and leaving a big gap before I go back to studying history again at level 3 (although there are history elements to this module too).

The single subject modules appear, to me, to give a deeper knowledge of any one thing. You get the opportunity to practice and learn from your mistakes. By the end of a module you can conquer the things that you struggled with at the start and all that boosts your confidence.

The interdisciplinary modules that I’ve studied have enhanced my general knowledge considerably.

It has been fascinating to see how subjects relate to each other and to be able to make connections to aid understanding. However there is less opportunity to improve on some aspects as you go. Once one thing is done you move on to something g new. I’m left feeling that interdisciplinary options seem well suited to the earlier parts of your degree and single subject modules better for the later parts. Of course it’s all different again once you reach postgraduate study but that’s another post. What do you think? Are you all for sticking to one subject or do you champion the broader knowledge of an interdisciplinary module?

Leanne is half way through a BA (Hons) in History with the Open University and enjoys writing as a freelancer as well as on her blog. Find out more here. You can catch up on all of Leanne’s excellent contributions on STOU here.

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