Initial Publication Date: September 2, 2010

Assessing Interdisciplinary Learning

Assessing Interdisciplinary Learning is Important

The Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) founded in 1915 has long been on the forefront of efforts strengthening liberal education - education that empowers individuals with broad knowledge and transferable skills, while promoting in students a commitment to civic engagement, strong values, and ethics. Greater Expectations, a major initiative of AAC&U from 2000-2006, promoted comprehensive academic reforms to foster liberal education that meets these objectives. Liberal Education and America's Promise (LEAP), instituted in 2005, embodies specific reforms championed by AAC&U including better use of assessment instruments to gauge the realization of valued student learning outcomes.

AAC&U champions the belief that of utmost importance is fostering students' abilities to integrate learning—across courses, over time, and between campus and community life. They take this stance because developing students' capacities for integrative and applied learning is central to personal success, social responsibility, and civic engagement in today's global society. One of the most effective ways to realize these academic goals is by providing students with interdisciplinary forms of learning.

The VALUE project is a component of LEAP that advances a national dialogue on how to most effectively assess college student learning, especially the ability to integrate insights across disciplines. At the core of VALUE is a philosophy of learning assessment that privileges multiple expert judgments of the quality of student work over sole reliance on standardized tests. Moreover, the use of rubric designed to assess integrative skills is highly endorsed by the AAC&U. For those interested in the AAC&U Integrative and Applied Learning VALUE rubric see Integrative Learning Value Rubric (Acrobat (PDF) 82kB Apr19 10)

Best Practices in Assessing Interdisciplinary Learning

There are two widely recognized means of assessing student ability to analyze in an interdisciplinary manner; the pre-and-post student survey method, and the grading rubricapproach. Student surveys can be designed and used to capture perceptions (subjective information) and the capacity to think in an interdisciplinary manner (objective information). Grading rubrics provide objective feedback on the status of both multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary thinking.

Pre-and-post Student Surveys - can be administered to students at the beginning and again at the end of the course to explore their level of understanding of fundamental principles in their disciplinary major, in relevant related majors and their capacity to synthesis and integrate across disciplines. This information can then be used to identify if a gap exists between perceived and actual understanding both at the beginning and at the end of the class. The exit survey can also include questions on whether they thought the interdisciplinary form of instruction was worthwhile or if they believe they would have experienced greater knowledge gains if the pedagogical approach was confined to a single discipline.

Grading Rubrics -are most effective when used in a two-step method. First, students are asked to analyze an issue or problem using the analytical framework of at least two disciplines. This entails multidisciplinary analysis since integration and synthesis is absent. Second, students are now required to present an interdisciplinary analysis of the same problem, using a synthesized framework that integrates the disciplinary insights used in the first step. The grading rubric is used to evaluate both multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary skills.

A step-by-step guide on how to construct an interdisciplinary grading rubric is available from the Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning at the University of Minnesota "constructing an interdisciplinary grading rubric" site. Heidi Hayes Jacobs, Ed.D. also provides a helpful example of an easy way to adopt an interdisciplinary rubric.