A Multi-Institutional
Study of
Interdisciplinary
Teaching and Learning
in STEM
A Research-Based
Framework
Jim Swartz, Grinnell College
Motivation for Project

The 21st Century Learner: To investigate
diverse ways of implementing and
assessing interdisciplinary learning in the
sciences.

To employ a multi-institutional faculty
cohort to investigate interdisciplinary
student learning.

To use an evidence-based approach
(qualitative & quantitative).

To construct a framework for
interdisciplinary understanding.

To build upon the work of others in this
area of scholarly inquiry.
Collaborative Inquiry of
Interdisciplinary Learning
 Interviews with faculty & students
(self-report)
 Online surveys (self-report)
◦Course instructors
◦Pre & post surveys of enrolled
students
http://www.grinnell.edu/academic/psychol
ogy/faculty/dl/risc
• Faculty team inquiry & analysis of
student work in interdisciplinary
courses (performance-based)
Acknowledgements
Funding provided by HHMI
Trish Ferrett (Carleton College)
David Lopatto, Mark Levandoski, Vida Praitis (Grinnell College)
Joanne Stewart, Graham Peaslee (Hope College)
Jim Russo (Whitman College)
Paul Jackson, Gary Muir, Kevin Crisp (St. Olaf College)
Whitney Schlegel (Indiana University)
Carleton’s Science Education Resource Center (SERC)
RISC (Research on Integrated
Science Curricula) Surveys
Faculty survey: course goals and activities
Student pre- and post- surveys: nature of science,
learning styles, confidence, and learning gains.
EMPIRICAL & SCHOLARLY - Based on research
literature, previous work of project team, and
faculty/student interviews.
Sample (of 50) Faculty Questions
Students read primary scientific literature.
Students work on a project or problem entirely of student's own design.
Students work on problems that have no clear solution.
Students work a project or problem entirely of student's own design.
Students study an interdisciplinary problem.
Students study problems with multiple causes that operate simultaneously
and interactively.
Sample (of 50) Student Questions
Please rate how much learning you gained from each element you experienced in
this course.
A project or problem entirely of student's own design
Working in small groups or teams.
Working on a problem that requires integrating ideas from both science and nonscience disciplines.
Attempting a complete understanding of a complex problem.
Reading primary literature from multiple disciplines or fields of study.
How well did you gain an understanding of how scientists think
Even if I forget the facts, I'll still be able to use the thinking skills I learn in science.
What might we learn from RISC?
Once survey validity is
more established, we will
query RISC data with more
“profound” questions.
EXAMPLE: What are the
relationships between
degree of independent
learning (pedagogy),
student attitudes about
nature of science, and
courses with a focus on
complex ID problems or
systems?
Pedagogy
Science
Attitudes
Study of
Complexity
Learning Goals:
Items from Faculty survey common to
“high” ID courses
Students learn to ask "big questions" that implicate
more than one discipline in a solution.
 Students learn about two (or more) disciplines so that
new insights emerge from considering them together.
 Students learn to find similarities and differences
between disciplines or fields of study.
 Students study problems with multiple causes that
operate simultaneously and interactively.

Pedagogies:
Items from Faculty survey common to
“high” ID courses





Students engage in class discussion
Students spend the entire course on one or a few
problems
Students work on problems that have no clear
solution
Students learn about two (or more) disciplines so that
new insights emerge from considering them together
Students have input on design of a project
Results & Lessons from RISC Survey
Language matters!
Students’ reports on prominent learning gains
align with faculty - and high learning gains
reported by students.
Faculty reports on learning goals and pedagogies
are consistent with research literature on
interdisciplinarity.
High ID RISC items resonate with qualitative
findings.
Distribution of student responses to evaluation of learning gains
on studying an interdisciplinary problem categorized by faculty
report of emphasis on studying interdisciplinary problems
40
35
30
Percent
25
Low
Middle
High
20
15
10
5
0
Very small
gain
Small gain
Moderate gain
Large gain
Very large gain
Students evaluate gain in studying interdisciplinary problems
in introductory, intermediate, or advanced courses
4.5
Mean student reported gain
4
3.5
3
Introductory
Intermediate
Advanced
2.5
2
1.5
1
Low
Moderate
High
Faculty-reported emphasis on studying interdisciplinary problems
Scholarly Inquiry by Faculty Cohort:
Analysis of Student Work

10 faculty, 1-3 from each of 5 colleges (Carleton,
Grinnell, Hope, St. Olaf, Whitman)

Faculty and cohort inquiry into student learning
in their own courses using qualitative methods
of analyzing student work
Interdisciplinary Courses:
Qualitative Work

Two traditional disciplinary disciplines merged
 Introductory biology and chemistry integrated course

Defined interdisciplinary area
 Neuroscience (senior capstone & introductory course)
 Bioinformatics (mid-level)

Problem-based drawing upon multiple disciplines
 Health Sciences
 Senior seminar on infectious diseases
 Environmental Science
 First-year seminar on renewable energy
 Mid-level course on abrupt climate change
 Senior research capstone for environmental science majors
Findings: Emergent Framework
Integration
Return, Revise,
Reflect
Building
Understanding
Engaging
Complexity
Interdisciplinary
Understanding
Personal Connection
Engaging
Disciplines
Learning Communities
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A Multi-Institutional Study of Interdisciplinary Teaching