Connective thinking for integration of the General Education curriculum

22 February 2024

Educational project

Connective thinking for integration of the General Education curriculum

Liberal Arts Education contains a vast amount of courses from different disciplines and areas, suitable for students to gain interdisciplinary knowledge. To reach this goal, students are encouraged to connect knowledge from different courses, which could be improved by structuring their notes of differing courses, using the tool ‘Obsidian’. This research aims to discover if implementation of such a note-making tool would benefit students in making such connections.


Liberal Arts Education typically contains a general education component (GE): a combination of courses in different disciplines to have the student gain knowledge from different scientific disciplines/areas in Humanities, Natural Sciences and Social Sciences. To gain integrated interdisciplinary knowledge, It is important that students of such a curriculum are able to connect knowledge from the different GE courses (Dekker, 2020; Haynes and Brown-Leonard, 2010). This research focuses on how a tool to make smart notes can facilitate the integration of knowledge by encouraging connective thinking, defined as making connections between insights or ideas that are not necessarily similar or bound together (Sill, 1996).


The aim of this research is to see how students can be supported in making connections throughout their GE curriculum by structuring their notes through the tool: Obsidian (, designed as a digital tool to write smart notes (Ahrends, 2017). In this tool, knowledge is structured following the technique of a slip-box, used by the researcher Luhmann, organizing knowledge per topic instead of per course, which makes it easier to make branches within one topic and connections between topics (Ahrends, 2017; Basu, 2020).

Project description

Fifteen first year students at Liberal Arts and Sciences (LAS) have volunteered to use Obsidian throughout their first year to take notes. The study starts with a training to teach the students how to take smart notes and explain how Obsidian works. With use of a case study method, the students who use Obsidian will be studied in detail: how they apply the tool, their output in terms of notes taken and their reflections on tool use. In addition, a questionnaire will be send to first year students at LAS to measure their note-taking behaviour and existing data from all participants on connective thinking, such as the connections they make in their written reflections, will be analyzed.

Results and conclusion

There are no results yet, but the first five students received the training and are working with the tool. During the training the students showed enthusiasm towards the tool, however they did find it difficult to see how this would work in practice. Therefore it is important that their process needs guidance, especially at the start of applying Obsidian.


  • Ahrens, S. (2017). How to take smart notes: one simple technique to boost writing, learning and thinking-for students, academics and nonfiction book writers. Sönke Ahrens.
  • Dekker, T. (2019, September). Liberal Arts Education, Student-Centered Learning and the Art of Reflective Judgment. In Bologna Process Beyond 2020: Fundamental Values of the EHEA.
  • Haynes, C., & Leonard, J. B. (2010). From surprise parties to mapmaking: Undergraduate journeys toward interdisciplinary understanding. The Journal of Higher Education, 81(5), 645-666.
  • Sill, D. J. (1996). Integrative thinking, synthesis, and creativity in interdisciplinary studies. The Journal of General Education, 45(2), 129-151.

You are free to share and adapt, if you give appropriate credit and use it non-commercially. More on Creative Commons


Are you looking for funding to innovate your education? Check our funding calender!