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Making Multidisciplinary Teaching Commonplace

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2006 Annual Conference & Exposition


Chicago, Illinois

Publication Date

June 18, 2006

Start Date

June 18, 2006

End Date

June 21, 2006



Conference Session

Multidisciplinary and Liberal Education

Tagged Division

Multidisciplinary Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

11.907.1 - 11.907.10



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Paper Authors

author page

David Ollis North Carolina State University

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

Making Multidisciplinary Teaching Commonplace


The repeating cry for more campus courses containing multidisciplinary aspects begs the question "How is Multidisciplinarity to be identified and assessed?" We discuss three engineering approaches to this question:

1. "Doing it all yourself" which requires dual initial degrees or extensive mid-career retraining of self. Examples: John Lienhard , University of Houston, author "Inventing Modern: Growing up with X-rays, skyscrapers, and tailfins" and Samuel Florman, Kreisler-Borg Construction, author "Engineering and the Liberal Arts" 2. "Seeing your discipline as inherently bidisciplinary". Example: David Billington (NAE), Princeton,civil engineering as "structural art", author: "The Innovators" 3. "Cross-college Collaboration:" Example: Our NSF-funded NCSU collaboration to use an engineering device dissection laboratory to enhance achievement of student learning objectives for courses taught in our Colleges of Humanities and Social Sciences (Foreign languages: Spanish and French), Design (Industrial design studio), and Education (Technology Education track).


Among the eleven ABET EC 2000 criteria1 is found the requirement that every engineering graduate have “an ability to function on multidisciplinary teams.” Implied but not discussed is the notion that the corresponding instructors have a knowledge of multidisciplinarity itself, and an ability to transmit this knowledge to students in a productive manner during their undergraduate tenure. In this paper we ask the question “Through what modes of training or formats of opportunity can instructors gain the bi- or multidisciplinary comfort and expertise appropriate to the EC 2000 dictum ?”

An earlier response 2 summarized the experience reported by our NSF Engineering Education consortium, SUCCEED, in which a variety of formats for teaching multidisciplinary design (MDD) were noted. Examples included faculty from different engineering disciplines as collaborating advisors, as well as cross-college and multi-university collaborations. The emphasis in these early examples was on how to search for, and find multidisciplinary design problems. Sources included industry clients, government national laboratories, and individual faculty suggestions. Intriguing as the individual design course examples were, no consensus format for teaching multidisciplinary design was evident.

In retrospect, lack of consensus strongly suggests a lack of uniformity in the individual instructors approach to design, and/or the variation in instructor background. Unfortunately, while individual instructors reported what they did, they rarely reported

Ollis, D. (2006, June), Making Multidisciplinary Teaching Commonplace Paper presented at 2006 Annual Conference & Exposition, Chicago, Illinois. 10.18260/1-2--536

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