My research on students' learning in interdisciplinary courses began in 1999, when I joined the Carnegie Scholar program. Since then, I've moved from asking general questions about how students understand interdisciplinarity, to identifying the obstacles students face in interdisciplinary courses, to exploring and testing strategies for helping them understand interdisciplinary theory and practice better. My research has involved observation of courses, surveys of students, interviews with faculty and students, and analysis of students' work. As with most scholarship of teaching and learning projects, my work continues to evolve, with each round of research generating new ideas for teaching and new questions for research.

This portfolio addresses several key questions about interdisciplinary teaching:


How does interdisciplinary teaching and learning work?

One of my first concerns in this project was learning about how students and faculty view interdisciplinarity. I started by asking students about how they understood the concept of interdisciplinarity, but my interviews with faculty who were teaching interdisciplinary courses revealed that they did not have a shared or well-defined understanding of the concept.

What do I want students to learn?

Once I had a better understanding of the challenges involved in interdisciplinary teaching and learning, I re-examined a course I had taught several times, refining the course goals and incorporating what I had learned so far into my vision of the course.

How can I facilitate their learning?

One of the problems I identified in my early research is that students find the task of integrating multiple sources and ideas from multiple fields very challenging. At the same time, students reported that they appreciated incremental learning and clear rubrics. I incorporated both of these strategies in designing this course.

How would I know if it worked?

My research focused on evaluating the effectiveness of my incremental learning assignments. I gathered a variety of kinds of evidence of students' learning, ranging from surveys and interviews to students' projects and my own reflections.

How did it go?

The three-assignment incremental learning sequence worked well for most students. My analysis of their work shows a clear development of analytical complexity in their writing over the course of the term. Students also noted that the sequence helped them gain confidence and understanding.