Asee peer logo

Influences on Engineering Instructors’ Emphasis on Interdisciplinarity in Undergraduate Courses

Download Paper |


2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Indianapolis, Indiana

Publication Date

June 15, 2014

Start Date

June 15, 2014

End Date

June 18, 2014



Conference Session

Trends in Engineering Education 1

Tagged Division

Educational Research and Methods

Page Count


Page Numbers

24.745.1 - 24.745.17



Permanent URL

Download Count


Request a correction

Paper Authors


Lisa R. Lattuca University of Michigan

visit author page

Lisa R. Lattuca, Professor of Higher Education at the University of Michigan, studies curriculum, teaching, and learning in college and university settings. Much of her work focuses on undergraduate engineering education, examining processes of curriculum development and revision at the course and program levels, including how faculty attitudes, beliefs, and cultures influence curricular and instructional practices affect student learning. She is also known for her work on interdisciplinarity; in her current engineering education research projects she is studying curricular efforts to promote interdisciplinary competence and students’ attainment of interdisciplinary skills.

visit author page


David B Knight Virginia Tech Department of Engineering Education Orcid 16x16

visit author page

David Knight is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Engineering Education and affiliate faculty with the Higher Education Program at Virginia Tech. His research focuses on student learning outcomes in undergraduate engineering, interdisciplinary teaching and learning, organizational change in colleges and universities, and international issues in higher education.

visit author page


Michael Geoffrey Brown University of Michigan-CSHPE

visit author page

Michael is a second year doctoral student at the University of Michigan in Higher Education. His research interests focus on organizational communication and curriculum planning in post-secondary education.

visit author page

Download Paper |


Individual, Organizational, and Extra-Organizational Influences on Engineering Instructors’ Emphasis on Interdisciplinarity in Undergraduate CoursesCalls for educational responses to scientific and technical problems often argue forinterdisciplinary thought and action, and the growth of interdisciplinary engineering courses andprograms suggests that the field is acknowledging its role in preparing students to developinterdisciplinary problem solutions and innovations. Today there is a vast literature oninterdisciplinarity in higher education, but empirical study of interdisciplinary education haslagged behind. Engineering education researchers are among the few exploring interdisciplinarycurricula, but to date, this research has focused on the experiences of students; few studiesconsider the role of engineering faculty in designing interdisciplinary educational experiencesthat will prepare students for interdisciplinary collaboration and innovation. Our study addressesthis imbalance by investigating influences on faculty who teach interdisciplinary topics andskills.Research on college and university faculty (including engineering faculty) indicates that a varietyof individual, organizational, and external influences shape their thinking about their courses.Such studies reveal that the nature of these influences varies depending on the topics and skills tobe taught in a course. Using data from a multi-institution study, we examine the influence of anarray of individual, organizational, and extra-organizational (external) factors on instructors’emphasis on interdisciplinary knowledge and skills in their undergraduate courses. The“academic plan model” that serves as the conceptual framework for the study identifies theessential parts of a curriculum design process (e.g., selection of content and instructionalmethods) and suggests a variety of factors that may shape course design.Our data come from 1,192 engineering faculty (tenured and tenure-eligible) and instructors (full-time, non-tenure line) from 31 U.S. colleges and universities and 7 engineering subdisciplineswho were surveyed as part of a larger study funded by the National Science Foundation. Thatstudy also collected data from undergraduates and alumni, program chairs, and associate deans toexamine the curricular, instructional, co-curricular, and organizational conditions that promotestudent learning of interdisciplinary competence (as well as design and problem-solving skillsand contextual competence). Using multiple regression techniques, we analyze the role of threesets of independent variables -- 1) instructors’ individual characteristics (e.g., gender, rank) andexperiences (e.g., industry experience, participation in professional development); 2)organizational features (e.g., program culture, college reward structures), and 3) externalinfluences (e.g., engineering education reports) -- on faculty and instructors’ reports of theemphasis they place on a variety of interdisciplinary topics and skills in courses they regularlyteach (the dependent variable).Our findings will contribute to the literature on interdisciplinary education by 1) providing aportrait of interdisciplinary undergraduate engineering courses (topics and skills included andlevels of emphasis on each) derived from a national sample of engineering faculty andinstructors, and 2) identifying the individual, organizational and external factors that influencefaculty and instructors’ emphasis on these interdisciplinary topics and skills. The findings willalso inform our subsequent analyses, which will explore how the salient factors identified hereinfluence engineering students’ educational experiences and students’ levels of interdisciplinarycompetence.

Lattuca, L. R., & Knight, D. B., & Brown, M. G. (2014, June), Influences on Engineering Instructors’ Emphasis on Interdisciplinarity in Undergraduate Courses Paper presented at 2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Indianapolis, Indiana. 10.18260/1-2--20637

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: © 2014 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