Yearning for Learning: how forestry and arts students feel about interdisciplinarity

Mandy Haggith ( reports on the findings from her LTA Scholarship project. Mandy will be talking more about her work at an LTA webinar on 15 February.

A-B Tree

The A-B-Craobh (A-B-Tree) project uses poetic inquiry to investigate student learning structured using the Gaelic Tree Alphabet, an ancient link between the letters of the alphabet and native woodland species. During 2022 the project worked with six student groups to explore learning that is hybrid in two different ways: mixing disciplines (forestry, literature and creative writing) and contexts (solo-outdoors and together-online). Out of a total of 45 students who took part in sessions, 35 supplied survey responses or took part in focus groups or interviews to help me evaluate their experience. I used mixed methods for the research, with a simple quantitative element, grounded theory for transcript analysis and poetic inquiry to delve more deeply into student responses and reflect on the findings.


Four key themes emerged: wonder, solititude, silence and interdisciplinarity. Wonder at trees, that combination of ‘hey, wow’ emotional response and cognitive wondering, has been a theme throughout the A-B-Craobh project. The benefits of solitude in encountering trees was particularly strongly articulated by arts students. The value of silence in class, an unexpected finding from the transcript analysis, was expressed by both arts and science students. Finally, student views on interdisciplinary learning were sought through both a quantitative question in the student survey and through written feedback and discussion. The results are striking: although the student sample is small, 95% of the science students say they want some arts and 63% of the arts students say they want some science in their learning diets.

The following poems, the first reflective, the other a ‘poemish’ piece made using the students’ words and phrases, elaborate on the themes of silence and interdisciplinarity. (Poems on wonder and solitude are available on request!)


Teachers,                                                         how much time

do you allow students                                     to sit

to think                                                            in silence?


When poetry students study trees they say:

            Mixing science with this creative sort of learning

                        is definitely really interesting.

            I like the intermixing of both things

                        because the forest is very important in literature.

            Look, how did trees and the forest make their way

                        into poems in the first place?

When forestry students write poems they say:

            Literature and creativity stem

from human connections to trees.

            I like combining forestry and the arts,

                        a holistic approach to learning.

            It creates a nice environment for everyone

                        and the freedom to have a laugh,

                        more engaging than textbooks.

Positive thoughts, because interdisciplinary knowledge

                        is the best way to make informed decisions.

            I enjoyed the creative side.

                        I enjoyed writing.

                                    I wrote a poem!

Building interdisciplinarity at UHI

A key phrase in this last poem is ‘interdisciplinary knowledge is the best way to make informed decisions’. This is an important insight. We need to prepare our students to be future leaders towards a sustainable future and to do this we should surely be doing more to meet what they say they need by way of, in their words, ‘a holistic approach to learning’. Who’s up for exploring how we can build more interdisciplinary options into the curriculum at UHI? Please contact Mandy or the LTA if you would like to explore this further.

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