Title page for ETD etd-09242008-101920

Type of Document Dissertation
Author Drezek, Kathryne Margaret
URN etd-09242008-101920
Title The Intellectual Impact of Interdisciplinarity: A Series of Studies of Graduate Students and Faculty Engaged in Interdisciplinary Scholarship
Degree PhD
Department Teaching and Learning
Advisory Committee
Advisor Name Title
Doolittle, Peter E. Committee Chair
Brandt, Carol Committee Member
Fowler, Shelli B. Committee Member
Wildman, Terry M. Committee Member
  • faculty learning
  • faculty work
  • epistemology
  • learning outcomes
  • interdisciplinarity
  • graduate education
Date of Defense 2008-09-09
Availability unrestricted
While disciplinarity still dominates college and university life, enthusiasm for interdisciplinary approaches has increased over the past three decades. Proponents often present interdisciplinarity as an a priori good, but scholars have noted that we have not yet sufficiently evaluated the efficacy of interdisciplinary initiatives. Most assessments of interdisciplinary initiatives have focused on tangible outcomes such as grants, papers, and patents. This is an unfortunate critical gap in the examination of interdisciplinarity, as it is possible that engagement in interdisciplinary activities changes student and faculty thinking in significant ways. This dissertation proposes to address the gap in the examination of interdisciplinarity regarding interdisciplinary learning outcomes by investigating the intellectual impact of interdisciplinary initiatives on students and faculty.

Utilizing a manuscript approach for the dissertation experience, this series of qualitative studies is organized around three areas of inquiry related to learning in interdisciplinary contexts: (a) how systematic interdisciplinary training affect doctoral students’ epistemic beliefs, that is, how they view the construction of knowledge and the nature of scholarship; (b) what faculty learn from engaging in interdisciplinary research initiatives, and what tools mediate this interdisciplinary learning process; and (c) whether an interdisciplinary training effort promotes the creation of an alternative community of practice for participating students and faculty.

The studies were part of a larger mixed methods assessment of the efficacy of the EIGER program. Participants were selected based upon their affiliation with one specific interdisciplinary graduate training initiative, the EIGER program, at Virginia Tech, and came from the hard sciences, engineering, and social sciences. Informed by grounded theory, analysis of the data revealed that both graduate students and faculty achieve interdisciplinary understanding as a result of their interdisciplinary training and research experiences. Furthermore, faculty interdisciplinary learning is mediated by other people and two categories of tools, problem platforms and solution mechanisms, and is achieved by both borrowing and lending of disciplinary expertise. Finally, results suggest that programs like the EIGER may constitute emerging communities of practice that serve as alternatives to traditional disciplinary communities.

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