Asee peer logo

Developing a Measure of Interdisciplinary Competence for Engineers

Download Paper |


2012 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


San Antonio, Texas

Publication Date

June 10, 2012

Start Date

June 10, 2012

End Date

June 13, 2012



Conference Session

Advances in Assessment of Communication and Interdisciplinary Competence

Tagged Division

Liberal Education/Engineering & Society

Page Count


Page Numbers

25.415.1 - 25.415.19



Permanent URL

Download Count


Request a correction

Paper Authors


Lisa R. Lattuca University of Michigan

visit author page

Lisa R. Lattuca is professor of higher education in the Center for the Study of Higher and Postsecondary Education at the University of Michigan.

visit author page


David B. Knight Pennsylvania State University, University Park Orcid 16x16

visit author page

David Knight is a doctoral candidate at Pennsylvania State University in the Higher Education program. He currently works as a visiting doctoral student at the University of Michigan's Center for the Study of Higher and Postsecondary Education. Knight's research interests include STEM education, interdisciplinary teaching and learning, and organizational issues in higher education. For his dissertation research, he is developing an outcomes-based typology of undergraduate engineering students and is working toward understanding the conditions and experiences associated with developing the engineers of 2020.

visit author page


Inger M. Bergom University of Michigan

visit author page

Inger Bergom is a doctoral student at the Center for the Study of Higher and Postsecondary Education (CSHPE) at the University of Michigan. She has an M.A. from CSHPE and a B.A. from Grinnell College. Her research interests include learning and teaching in college, faculty careers and roles, and program evaluation.

visit author page

Download Paper |


Developing a Measure of Interdisciplinary Competence for EngineersRecent policy documents call for greater investments in interdisciplinary education (e.g. NationalAcademy of Sciences, 2004; National Institutes of Health, 2006) based on the assumption thatinterdisciplinary educational approaches more effectively foster innovation than discipline-basedprograms (National Academy of Engineering, 2004; U.S. Department of Education, 2006) andpromote global competitiveness, national security, and economic prosperity (National Academyof Engineering, 2004; National Science Board, 2010). Recognizing the complexity ofengineering practice, ABET’s Criterion 3.d requires engineering programs to ensure that studentslearn to work in multidisciplinary teams. Aligned with these assumptions is the NationalAcademy of Engineering’s Engineer of 2020 report, which encourages colleges and universitiesto graduate engineers who understand that engineering problems – as well as solutions – areembedded in complex social, cultural, political, environmental, and economic contexts.Developing solutions that account for this enlarged problem space require engineers to access,understand, evaluate, synthesize, and apply information and knowledge from other fields as theyproblem-solve. Engineers must thus develop an appreciation for the contributions of fieldsoutside engineering, a willingness to engage knowledge and/or work with individuals from thosefields, and the ability to use what they learn to engineer effective solutions to the problemspresented. The few tools developed to assess interdisciplinary learning, for example, assessmentrubrics (e.g., Boix Mansilla & Duraising, 2008; Wolfe & Haynes, 2003), can be used to judgeindividual projects in classrooms or classroom studies. These tools are less useful, however, forprogram-level assessments required for accreditation or large-scale research projects that seek toassess students’ learning experiences across institutions or academic programs.In this paper we describe the development and testing of a measure of interdisciplinarycompetence. Interdisciplinarity can be defined as a perspective, practice, or problem-solvingapproach that utilizes knowledge and modes of inquiry drawn from more than one disciplinaryperspective.The paper first describes the eight dimensions of interdisciplinary competence that emerged froman extensive literature review: 1) awareness of disciplinarity; 2) appreciation of disciplinaryperspectives; 3) appreciation of non-disciplinary perspectives; 4) recognition of disciplinarylimitations; 5) interdisciplinary evaluation; 6) ability to find common ground; 7) reflexivity; and8) integrative skill. These dimensions were then operationalized as a set of survey items andrefined through focus groups with engineering faculty. The paper presents the results of a pilottest of these survey items with a sample of more than 375 undergraduate engineers and describesfurther adjustments made to survey items.In addition, the paper includes information on the formation of three scales to measure thismultidimensional construct, using factor analysis and psychometric characteristics (e.g.,reliabilities) of the three interdisciplinary competence scales that emerged from this process. Thepaper demonstrates the ability of the scales to distinguish by students’ class standing, acrossengineering disciplines, and across types of institutions. This measurement development processyielded an effective assessment for engineering students’ interdisciplinary competence that couldbe administered on a large-scale in program assessments and research efforts in engineering.ReferencesBoix Mansilla, V. & Duraising, E. D. (2008). Targeted Assessment of Students’ Interdisciplinary Work: An Empirically Grounded Framework Proposed. Journal of Higher Education, 78 (2), 215-237.National Academy of Engineering (2004).The engineer of 2020: Visions of engineering in the new century. Washington, D.C.: National Academies Press.National Academy of Sciences (2004).Facilitating interdisciplinary research. Washington, D.C.: National Academies Press.National Institutes of Health (2006).Summary of the President’s FY 2006 budget. Washington, D.C.: National Institutes of Health.National Science Board. (2010). Ch. 2: Higher Education in Science and Engineering. In Science and Engineering Indicators: 2010.National Science Foundation, 2.1–2.48.US Department of Education (2006). A test of leadership: Charting the future of American higher education. Report of the commission appointed by Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings.Wolfe, C. R., & Haynes, C. (2003a). Assessing interdisciplinary writing. Peer Review, 6(1), 12– 15.

Lattuca, L. R., & Knight, D. B., & Bergom, I. M. (2012, June), Developing a Measure of Interdisciplinary Competence for Engineers Paper presented at 2012 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, San Antonio, Texas. 10.18260/1-2--21173

ASEE holds the copyright on this document. It may be read by the public free of charge. Authors may archive their work on personal websites or in institutional repositories with the following citation: © 2012 American Society for Engineering Education. Other scholars may excerpt or quote from these materials with the same citation. When excerpting or quoting from Conference Proceedings, authors should, in addition to noting the ASEE copyright, list all the original authors and their institutions and name the host city of the conference. - Last updated April 1, 2015