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Unpacking the Interdisciplinary Mind: Implications for Teaching and Learning

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2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Vancouver, BC

Publication Date

June 26, 2011

Start Date

June 26, 2011

End Date

June 29, 2011



Conference Session

SPECIAL SESSION: Interdisciplinary Course Design Opportunities for Chemical Engineers

Tagged Division

Chemical Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

22.1583.1 - 22.1583.10



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Paper Authors


Wendy C. Newstetter Georgia Institute of Technology

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Wendy C. Newstetter is the Director of Learning Sciences Research in the Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering at Georgia Tech.Her research focuses on understanding learning in interdisciplines towards designing educational environments that develop integrative problem solving.

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Unpacking the interdisciplinary mind:  Implications for teaching and learning  As  21st  century  science  and  engineering  challenge  and  assault  disciplinary boundaries  towards  solving  problems  in  healthcare,  the  environment  and  energy, universities  and  colleges  are  seeking  ways  to  make  the  curriculum  and  the classroom  more  interdisciplinary.  However,  there  are  a  number  of  challenges associated  with  creating  and  sustaining  interdisciplinary  learning  environments.  When do you start? Early or late? Should students be disciplinary before working at becoming  interdisciplinary?  What  form  should  the  classroom  take?  Does interdisciplinary learning need new pedagogies?  New learning spaces that defy the large  lecture  hall?    How  does  one  think  beyond  the  classroom  towards  a  truly interdisciplinary  curriculum?    What  are  the  desired  student  learning  outcomes? What  kinds  of  measurement  can  actually  get  at  interdisciplinary  reasoning  and problem  solving?    How  do  you  help  faculty  get  comfortable  with  the  idea  that students should be given a window on current science and engineering, not just the fossilized versions found in textbooks?    This  talk  will  address  these  questions  as  it  addresses  the  question  of  the interdisciplinary mind—how does it reason and problem solve?  How does it forge alliances  between  conflicting  epistemologies  and  practices?    Based  on  ten  years investigation  of  interdisciplinary  science  as  practiced  in  the  laboratories  and  on bench  tops,  I  will  argue  for  and  present  a  particular  approach  to  the  design  of interdisciplinary education we have developed in biomedical engineering that goes beyond  the  single  classroom  to  the  whole  curriculum.    This  approach  starts  with cognitive descriptions of desired learning outcomes and then uses design principles across  classrooms  towards  helping  students  become  self‐directed  agents  of  their own  interdisciplinary  learning  and  problem  solvers  who  eagerly  work  across disciplinary boundaries.   

Newstetter, W. C. (2011, June), Unpacking the Interdisciplinary Mind: Implications for Teaching and Learning Paper presented at 2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Vancouver, BC. 10.18260/1-2--18386

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