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Assessing Student Perspectives Of Interdisciplinary Collaboration

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2009 Annual Conference & Exposition


Austin, Texas

Publication Date

June 14, 2009

Start Date

June 14, 2009

End Date

June 17, 2009



Conference Session

NSF Grantees Poster Session

Page Count


Page Numbers

14.248.1 - 14.248.9



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Paper Authors


David Richter Virginia Tech

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DAVID RICHTER is a doctoral student in the Engineering Education department at Virginia Tech. He earned a B.S. in mechanical engineering from Saint Louis University and a M.S. in mechanical engineering from Virginia Tech. For his dissertation, Mr. Richter is investigating the role of disciplinary egocentrism in interdisciplinary design collaboration. His other interests are in the areas of engineering design education, design cognition, and outreach programs for youth.

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Marie Paretti Virginia Tech Orcid 16x16

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MARIE C. PARETTI is an assistant professor of Engineering Education at Virginia Tech, where she co-directs the Virginia Tech Engineering Communications Center (VTECC). Her research focuses on communication in engineering design, interdisciplinary communication and collaboration, and design education. She was awarded a CAREER grant from NSF to study expert teaching practices in capstone design courses nationwide, and is co-PI on several NSF grants to explore interdisciplinary collaboration in engineering design.

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Lisa McNair Virginia Tech

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LISA D. McNAIR is an assistant professor of Engineering Education at Virginia Tech and co-Director of the VT Engineering Communication Center (VTECC). She is co-PI on several NSF-funded projects that explore issues of learning, practicing and teaching interdisciplinarity in university and industry settings. Her primary research interests are communication and collaboration in interdisciplinary and distributed settings, institutional structures that encourage transformational learning, and the possibilities of liberal education in engineering programs.

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Maura Borrego Virginia Tech

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MAURA BORREGO is an Assistant Professor of Engineering Education at Virginia Tech. Dr.
Borrego holds an M.S. and Ph.D. in Materials Science and Engineering from Stanford University.
Her current research interests center around interdisciplinary graduate education in engineering. She has an NSF CAREER and Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE) award for this work.

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Assessing Student Perspectives of Interdisciplinary Collaboration


In order to prepare current engineering students to tackle the complex, global problems they will face in industry, engineering education researchers have begun to investigate interdisciplinary collaboration. As researchers continue to unravel the phenomenon of interdisciplinary collaboration, engineering educators are beginning to incorporate interdisciplinary design experiences into their courses. While these efforts aim to increase students’ skills for future interdisciplinary collaboration, assessments focusing on interdisciplinarity are still lacking.

This paper presents the adaptation of a scenario-based instrument, used to assess design cognition; the instrument was redesigned to assess students’ perceptions toward interdisciplinary collaboration. Specifically, the instrument was designed to measure students’ ability to identify and value the contributions of a full range of disciplines, both inside and outside of engineering. In doing so, it seeks to measure the students’ understanding of the need for broad-based interdisciplinary collaboration.

The instrument was piloted in an interdisciplinary green engineering capstone design course; this test data was triangulated with focus group and interview data, collected at the conclusion of the course. To reliably score the test data, a rubric was designed to quantify the students’ understanding with respect to interdisciplinary design collaboration. This rubric takes into account the different levels of perspective students provided through their answers. In order to triangulate the test data, the scoring rubric was used to create a coding scheme that then was applied to the interview and focus group data. From the analysis of the pre- and post-course tests, the students show a progression towards an awareness of need for interdisciplinary collaboration, but the focus group and interview data reveals that the level of perspective may not be at the same level as indicated from the survey data.


With the current complexity of the world, engineers are facing challenges that require knowledge, skills, methodologies, and perspectives from multiple disciplines while only having been educated in their specific engineering discipline. The new engineering workforce, specifically new graduates of engineering programs, need to develop skills of interdisciplinarity to collaborate in complex ways in order to integrate the knowledge, skills, methodologies, and perspectives from all the disciplines involved in developing solutions to these challenges. This call for interdisciplinarity at the undergraduate level comes from several government reports, including Facilitating Interdisciplinary Research1, Rising Above the Gathering Storm2, and Educating the Engineer of 20203. Another driving force to introduce undergraduate to interdisciplinary collaboration and learning comes from ABET with criteria 3 (d) and (h): “an ability to function on multidisciplinary teams” and “the broad education necessary to understand the impact of engineering solutions in a global, economic, environmental, and societal context”4.

Richter, D., & Paretti, M., & McNair, L., & Borrego, M. (2009, June), Assessing Student Perspectives Of Interdisciplinary Collaboration Paper presented at 2009 Annual Conference & Exposition, Austin, Texas. 10.18260/1-2--5437

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