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Board 342: Moving Toward Transdisciplinary Learning Around Topics of Convergence: Is it really Possible in Higher Education Today?

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Conference

2023 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition

Location

Baltimore , Maryland

Publication Date

June 25, 2023

Start Date

June 25, 2023

End Date

June 28, 2023

Conference Session

NSF Grantees Poster Session

Tagged Topic

NSF Grantees Poster Session

Page Count

13

DOI

10.18260/1-2--42963

Permanent URL

https://peer.asee.org/42963

Download Count

189

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Paper Authors

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Greg J. Strimel Purdue University, West Lafayette Orcid 16x16 orcid.org/0000-0002-4847-4526

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Greg J. Strimel, Ph.D., is an associate professor of Technology Leadership and Innovation and program lead for the Design and Innovation Minor at Purdue University. Dr. Strimel conducts research on design pedagogy, cognition, and assessment as well as P-12 engineering/technology teaching and learning.

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Douglas Edward Pruim

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Deana Lucas

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Todd Kelley Purdue University, West Lafayette

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Todd R. Kelley is an Associate Professor in Technology Leadership and Innovation. Dr. Kelley joined Purdue in 2008 upon completion of his PhD at the University of Georgia. He was hired as a P-12 STEM educational researcher and technology teacher educator.

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Jung Joo Sohn Purdue University, West Lafayette

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Abstract

There have been numerous demands for enhancements in the way undergraduate learning occurs today, especially at a time when the value of higher education continues to be called into question. One type of demand has been for the increased integration of subjects/disciplines around relevant issues/topics—with a more recent trend of seeking transdisciplinary learning experiences for students. Transdisciplinary learning can be viewed as the holistic way of working equally across disciplines to transcend their own disciplinary boundaries to form new conceptual understandings as well as develop new ways in which to address complex topics or challenges. This transdisciplinary approach can be important as humanity’s problems are not typically discipline specific and require the convergence of competencies to lead to innovative thinking across fields of study. However, higher education continues to be siloed which makes the authentic teaching of converging topics, such as innovation, human-technology interactions, climate concerns, or harnessing the data revolution, organizationally difficult. For example, working across a university’s academic units to collaboratively teach, or co-teach, around topics of convergence are likely to be rejected by the university systems that have been built upon longstanding traditions. While disciplinary expertise is necessary and one of higher education’s strengths, the structures and academic rigidity that come along with the disciplinary silos can prevent modifications/improvements to the roles of academic units/disciplines that could better prepare students for the future of both work and learning. The balancing of disciplinary structure with transdisciplinary approaches to solving problems and learning is a challenge that must be persistently addressed. These institutional challenges will only continue to limit universities seeking toward scaling transdisciplinary programs and experimenting with novel ways to enhance the value of higher education for students and society. This then limits innovations to teaching and also hinders the sharing of important practices across disciplines.

To address these concerns, a National Science Foundation Improving Undergraduate STEM Education project team, which is the topic of this paper, has set the goal of developing/implementing/testing an authentically transdisciplinary, and scalable educational model in an effort to help guide the transformation of traditional undergraduate learning to span academics silos. This educational model is specifically focused on teaching the cross-cutting practices of innovation by a) implementing co-teaching and co-learning from faculty and students across different academic units/colleges as well as b) offering learning experiences spanning multiple semesters that immerse students in a community that can nourish both their learning and innovative ideas. As a collaborative initiative, this model is designed to synergize key strengths of an institution’s engineering/technology, liberal arts, and business management colleges/units to create a transformative undergraduate experience focused on the pursuit of innovation—one that reaches the broader campus community, regardless of students’ backgrounds or majors. Throughout the development of this model, research was conducted to help identify institutional barriers toward creating such a cross-college model at a research-intensive public university along with uncovering ways in which to address these barriers. While data can show how students value and enjoy transdisciplinary experiences, universities are not likely to be structured in a way to support these educational initiatives and they will face challenges throughout their lifespan. These challenges can result from administration turnover whereas mutual agreements may then vanish, continued disputes over academic territory, and challenges over resource allotments. Essentially, there may be little to no incentives for academic departments to engage in transdisciplinary programming within the existing structures of higher education. However, some insights and practices have emerged that can be useful in moving toward transdisciplinary learning around topics of convergence. Accordingly, the paper will highlight features of an educational model that spans disciplines along with the workarounds to current institutional barriers. This paper will also provide insights on 1) the potential pitfalls with educational programming becoming “un-disciplinary” rather than transdisciplinary, 2) ways in which to incentivize departments/faculty to engage in transdisciplinary efforts, and 3) new structures within higher education that can be used to help faculty/students/staff to more easily converge to increase access to learning across academic boundaries.

Strimel, G. J., & Pruim, D. E., & Lucas, D., & Kelley, T., & Sohn, J. J. (2023, June), Board 342: Moving Toward Transdisciplinary Learning Around Topics of Convergence: Is it really Possible in Higher Education Today? Paper presented at 2023 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Baltimore , Maryland. 10.18260/1-2--42963

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