Creating an Interdisciplinary Bachelor course: Living Pasts

31 January 2019

Educational project

Creating an Interdisciplinary Bachelor course: Living Pasts

In this article we will describe the process of creating a 7.5 ECTS-Bachelor course where students work in interdisciplinary teams to analyse demand-driven, societal challenges. They will be brought in contact with various ways of digital learning and communication. Commissioned by local stakeholders, like the Historical Archive of Utrecht, students will research the societal and historic values of urban heritage. These values will be translated by students into stories that they will design with help from databases connected to Augmented Reality-technology (AR) and Citizen Science.

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Read the newsitem (Dutch): Studenten ontwikkelen innovatieve vorm van geschiedvertelling
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Higher education experience three important challenges:

  1. Big societal problems require interdisciplinary cooperation and learning, but a lot of the current offered education stays within its trusted discipline. Without interdisciplinary cooperation, it can be difficult to create a form of problem-guided education, based on societal problems. Furthermore, the challenges presented to the students have to be manageable and solvable for students and teachers within the limited course period.
  2. Another important challenge is to expand the engagement of students in their education. In expanding ways, they have to design their own learning process. Co-creation helps with the engagement within education and stimulates enlarges the commitment of students. This will help the course to live up to the expectations of students.
  3. Current education insufficiently includes technical developments and possibilities. By letting the students experiment with new digital technology and media, we attempt to design a course that will be future-proof.

Project Description

This project focuses on creating a bachelor course where students will analyse and research historical and societal values of urban heritage. The student will make use of the digital content and infrastructure of the Utrecht Time Machine project (UTM). This is a collaboration of the UU and local organizations (HKU, Het Utrechts Archief, Centraal Museum, Erfgoed Utrecht, Utrecht Marketing and Provincie Utrecht). The UTM-project will deliver societal challenges, possibilities to work in interdisciplinary teams and a technological environment that supports new media and technology, like AR.

On behalf of stakeholders located in Utrecht, students from multiple disciplines (Informatica, Geosciences, Faculty of Humanities, Social Sciences and Liberal Arts and Sciences) will research the historic and societal values of urban heritage. These values will be translated by students into stories, that will be designed with help from databases connected to Augmented Reality-technology (AR) and Citizen Science (Involving citizens with collecting stories and images of locations). By doing this, the project aims to stimulate Advanced Digital Literacy, Cultural Literacy and Historic Awareness with students and teachers of the UU.

Goals and Results

This project aims to let bachelor students cooperate in interdisciplinary teams on question-driven, social challenges, and make them connect with new ways of digital learning and communication. The course aims to build bridges between alfa, bèta and gamma studies. The course will be developed in co-creation (Healy et al., 2014).

In the Living Pasts course (BETA-B3LH), students from various disciplines team up to uncover the abundant history of Utrecht and develop community-engaged digital prototypes for target-groups in the city. Through hands-on work, students produce everything from blogs to visual novels, VR/AR applications, escape rooms, serious games and documentaries (available on The most promising prototypes develop into community-supported spin-offs, such as the Dub Lustrum Quiz, Museum van Zuilen escape room and a documentary ‘Levende Herinneringen aan Lombok on bottom-up gentrification in Lombok, broadcasted by RTV Utrecht on 07-08-2022.


  1. For all interdisciplinary uso’s to get started, it is important to know the hurdles that need to be taken in order to recruit students from the different faculties involved. The Beta course code has been perceived as a barrier to participation. We had to advertise extensively via social media. A joint effort to recruit students for USO innovation courses could remedy this.
  2. We have been experimenting with the principle of co-creation and experienced that a completely open structure is too overwhelming for students, who indicated that a structured start is essential to get gradually accustomed to a more open and co-designing approach. So we decided on a structured mapping assignment with an individual academic paper start and subsequently proceeding to a prototype co-design learning trajectory.
  3. The presence of a prototype community stakeholder in the process is important to facilitate community-engaged learning. While we managed to connect to institutional stakeholders of the city and built long-term relationships, we found that 10 weeks is too little time for students to build partnerships in the locality and context of a single course iteration. This therefore requires preparatory work on behalf of students prior to the course.
  4. Including U-Talent students in a university course offers great learning opportunities. Meanwhile, course leaders should closely monitor and adjust the experienced workload. Ambitious pupils may otherwise find themselves overextending.


  1. Students highly appreciate setting individual learning goals (i.e., learning how to plan, how to write an English academic paper, how to engage in team activities or how to do mapping and prototype development). We have successfully entrusted students with this responsibility and autonomy, seeing countless feats of personal growth. Students have commented that this open-ended nature helped them to go beyond “how to do this?” to “who am I, and what do I care about?”
  2. Students invariably reflect on their enjoyment creating concrete products, and their work coming together at the end of their design process. This combines with an appreciation of their work being meaningful (community-engaged) and additive (transdisciplinary).
  3. Offering alumni of the course the possibility of joining the livingpasts’ instruction team as a student-assistant is highly regarded and seen as a sign of trust in the capabilities and competencies of students.


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Troost, I.O., van den Bosch, L., Nederlof, Nazar, S. N., Wijers, M., Bakker, A., Pieters, T. (2022). Student Assistant on Demand: A Reflection on Co-Design Education during COVID-19 [Unpublished/submitted manuscript, see attachment].


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