R. Santos1, A. Queirós1, C. Martins1, A. Silva1, M. Rodrigues1, L.J. Gonçalves2

1University of Aveiro (PORTUGAL)
2University of Aveiro, Águeda School of Technology and Management (PORTUGAL)
Interdisciplinary approaches have become increasingly important in addressing a wide range of problems at both teaching and learning levels. The interdisciplinarity has the potential to bring new insights and methods to enhance learning, promote critical thinking skills and help organize all the knowledge being produced, both within research and at all levels of education . Besides the importance of integrating knowledge from distinct disciplines, the complexity of real world problems often require teams of experts from very different areas that possess quite distinct vocabulary and ways of working.

In order to meet a real life challenge aligned with regional priorities, students from two Polytechnic Schools of Applied Sciences, one from health sciences and the other from technology and management, were involved in an interdisciplinary project-based learning strategy, in the same way as companies and research institutes generally operate in the area of health information systems development. In a general way, the approach aimed to place students from each area contributing to the challenge of creating a system to be used in the context of a smart city, that monitors the health condition and helps to promote the adequate level of physical activity of older adults, and collaborating in certain tasks to achieve a better understanding of the problem and, thus, a better solution.

This article aims to:
i) present the followed approach to the development of the aforementioned system; and
ii) discuss the strengths and difficulties of integrating an interdisciplinary team of students from different areas of knowledge.

The followed approach was guided by many of the principles of iterative design and evaluation as well as of user-centered design. Both students and teachers considered that it was an enriching experience to engage in a multi-disciplinary project supported by a real problem and where they gave a valuable contribution to help in solving the problem of low levels of physical activity seen in older adults. During the process, some challenges arose, mainly related to physical distance and different participants’ availability.

The obtained results evidence that the involvement of different stakeholders, users and developers since the beginning of the development is very important. Also, they reinforce the idea that the involvement of students during their training in real and interdisciplinary project work is fundamental to create IT systems adapted to real situations and contexts and can be an important driver to encourage the relationship between higher education institutions and the surrounding community and promote a efficient knowledge transfer.