Initial question 2: Discipline, subject, or both?

Archived Page.

This page related to stage 1 of the project, which concluded in September 2014.

Whether to structure the new subject coding scheme by subject or discipline is one of the fundamental decisions we need to take. Read through the issue and the solutions, and let us know what you think the solution should be, and why.

The issue:

Subjects are cleaner to classify, but a lot of people tend to think in terms of discipline. The distinction is a matter of degree, and narrower terms always tend to be more subject like, and broader terms always more discipline like.

Disciplines can be characterised as having:

  • a defined approach (shared methods and research questions)
  • a label that is different from the subject of study/research
  • a history as a human practice
  • an associated profession

Examples include: Medicine and Dentistry; Linguistics; Physics, Astronomy and Astrophysics

Subjects, on the other hand, are characterised by:

  • being concepts independent of how they’ve been studied
  • being studied by multiple disciplines
  • having little or no overlap with adjacent subjects (i.e. are defined in contra-distinction)

Examples include: medicine, French language, physics

Solution 2a. Subject structure

Assuming a hierarchical NSCS, taking subjects as the principal term can have drastic consequences such as a time honoured discipline effectively disappearing from view.

Pros

  •  Cleaner structure
  • Less duplication
  • Can provide comprehensive coverage

Cons

  • Counter intuitive for many
  • Subjects are in constant flux
  • May provoke boundary disputes
  • Doesn’t satisfy perceived need for discipline-based system

Solution 2b. Structure the NSCS as a flat list of subjects.

Assuming a flat list such as the one in solution 1d, the NSCS would become a collection of about 150 or so major terms that can be used to classify complete degree programmes.

A partial, flat list of subjects

A partial, flat list of subjects

Pros:

  • Could meet most statistical return purposes
  • Appears to follow current coding practice relatively closely
  • Strikes a delicate balance between comprehensiveness and comprehensibility

Cons:

  • By itself, it’s unsuitable for module classification
  • May be at the upper limit of a workable number of terms in a flat list

 

Solution 2c. Structure the NSCS hierarchy as much as possible on discipline.

Assuming that the NSCS has a hierarchy, the principal terms become communities, who look at particular topics at a more detailed level.

A classics discipline hierarchy

A classics discipline hierarchy

Pros

  • May follow HEp structure and academic thought
  • Likely to remain relatively stable
  • Easier/less controversial to add to

Cons

  • Not the cleanest structure
  • May lead to some duplication

Solution 2d. Structure the NSCS as a flat list of disciplines

Assuming a flat list such as the one in solution 1d, the NSCS could become a collection of about 20 to 60 terms that can be used to classify whole departments or schools.

A partial view of the CIS 2010 discipline list

A partial view of the CIS 2010 discipline list

Pro:

  • Easy to grasp
  • Could help human resource purposes

Con:

  • May map badly to the varied organisational structure of different institutions
  • May not provide enough detail for most purposes

 

Solution 2e. Four distinct levels

Assuming a hierarchy, the NSCS could be structured at four distinct levels: branch, discipline, subject and field.

Pros

  • Potentially follows HEp structure and academic thought closely
  • Makes it easier to share subjects and fields
  • Supports specific recommendations in the ‘roadmap’ about disciplines, levels and structure

Cons

  • Distinctions between levels may not always be easy to draw and could differ per discipline
  • 4 levels rather than 3

More initial questions on the Design page


We would like to thank those people who commented in Stage 1. We have taken your comments on-board. The project deliverable PD03, “HEDIIP NSCS Structure and Candidate Scheme” (available from the HEDIIP web site) shows how we settled on a design.

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One thought on “Initial question 2: Discipline, subject, or both?

  1. I’m not convinced that relative stability is a ‘pro’ of the disciplinary approach. Whilst disciplines are fairly stable at the highest level (we still have ‘historians’), at lower levels the way that disciplines divide themselves into subgroups can be pretty fluid. And precisely because a discipline is a human community, the question of what counts as ‘inside’ or ‘outside’ of it isn’t always a straightforward technical one…

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