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Building Teaching Collaborations across Disciplines

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2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


New Orleans, Louisiana

Publication Date

June 26, 2016

Start Date

June 26, 2016

End Date

June 29, 2016





Conference Session

Faculty Unite! Effective Ways for Educators to Collaborate Successfully

Tagged Division

New Engineering Educators

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Paper Authors


Jennifer Keshwani University of Nebraska, Lincoln

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Jenny Keshwani is an Assistant Professor of Biological Systems Engineering and Science Literacy Specialist in the Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. She is also the coordinator for the National Center for Agricultural Literacy. She is active in promoting science and engineering education in both formal and informal settings through her research, extension, and outreach activities. Most recently, she was part of a team that received NSF funding to engage youth in STEM through wearable technologies.

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Krista Lynn Adams University of Nebraska, Lincoln

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Dr. Krista L. Adams is an Assistant Professor of Science Education at the University of Nebraska - Lincoln. She completed her PhD at Arizona State University and was a member of the first cohort of Sandra K. Abell Institute participants in 2009. Krista taught middle school physical science and is a National Board Certified Teacher now studying novice teachers’ decisions based on the design and implementation of their teaching practices.

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Current engineering curricula provide few opportunities for students to interact with their peers in other disciplines. However, the engineering profession, and society as a whole, is becoming more and more integrated requiring communication skills for discussing a variety of topics with a variety of audiences. Engineering students need opportunities to practice communicating technical information with non-technical audiences. As engineering instructors, one way to facilitate these opportunities is to collaborate with faculty in non-technical disciplines. Developing and sustaining cross-disciplinary learning experiences requires collaborating instructors to model strong communication skills for their students. The objective of this study was to identify best practices for bridging technical and non-technical disciplines in the classroom.

In this study, the instructors of a biological systems engineering course and an elementary education course collaborated to from cross-disciplinary teams of students. The student teams planned and facilitated afterschool clubs at local elementary schools that have been identified as low socio-economic status and academically underperforming. The instructors of the engineering and education courses met regularly throughout the semester to discuss team dynamics and progress. Reflection questions were posted by the instructors throughout the semester on a shared Google+ Community page to monitor student experiences and encourage group discussion regarding team performance.

Data, in the form of student coursework, was collected over two years of implementing the cross-disciplinary project in the two courses. The first year was considered a pilot test of the project and provided feedback to improve the student experience. Modifications during the second year included providing more opportunities for students to meet with their cross-disciplinary teammates during class time, providing additional structure to define project deliverables, providing ample time for teams to discuss their unique backgrounds, and moderating communication between the team members.

While the course instructors knew each other through a discussion group on campus, they had no previous experience collaborating with each other. Similar to the student experience, consistent communication and clear definition of expectations were keys to forming a successful collaboration. Both instructors had to clearly articulate what they expected their students to learn from the experience and how much time they were willing to devote during class time. For example, during the pilot implementation of the project, students became frustrated due to a lack of clarity in project expectations. This was largely due to a difference in the expectations each instructor had for her class.

The results of this study show that cross-disciplinary collaborations between disciplines has great promise to better prepare engineering students to interact professionally with a variety of audiences. Course instructors must also develop strong communication skills to enable students to succeed in the collaborations. The results of this work will lead to a better understanding of how to promote strong collaborations across technical and non-technical disciplines to provide opportunities for engineering students to practice communication skills.

Keshwani, J., & Adams, K. L. (2016, June), Building Teaching Collaborations across Disciplines Paper presented at 2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, New Orleans, Louisiana. 10.18260/p.26414

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