Learning to be an interdisciplinary researcher: incorporating training about dispositional and epistemological differences into graduate student environmental science teams

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Apr 22, 2020
David C. Gosselin, Kate Thompson, Deana Pennington, & Shirley Vincent



The interdisciplinary research (IR) that is necessary for the creation of innovative solutions for the many complex environmental challenges facing society requires collaboration and the sharing and integration of knowledge from different disciplines in teams. Higher education programs should deploy effective pedagogical approaches to train students in interdisciplinary, team research collaboration. This paper discusses the design of three learning modules that supported the development of collaboration and teamwork skills among doctoral students during an IR workshop held in 2017 at the University of Texas at El Paso. The module activities were scaffolded to provide multiple opportunities for students to develop knowledge about the impacts that individual dispositional characteristics and differences in epistemological philosophies can have on teamwork processes. The activities and the workshop overall created opportunities for the students to apply this knowledge in a variety of authentic, collaborative contexts. An inquiry approach to pedagogical practice was used to address two key questions: (1) Did the learning modules increase knowledge of the impact of sharing dispositional features of team members on the practice of IR? (2) How confident were workshop participants in their ability to adapt to dispositional and epistemological diversity during future IR team activities? Results from a post-workshop questionnaire data, group reflections, and retrospective pre- and post-assessment showed (1) participants learned and practiced essential collaborative skills in authentic contexts; (2) the modules were valued and helped participants recognize the important role that personal dispositional characteristics have on the development of effective IR teams; (3) participants’ confidence in adapting to differences among team members increased; and (4) participants recognized that effective collaboration is an emergent property of a team that benefits from the overall intentionality of using a defined process and communication strategy.

Read the article in Journal of Environmental Studies and Science.

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