Bridging disciplines : a case study of interdisciplinary design-based learning between undergraduate artists and engineers




Harron, Jason Robert

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This dissertation’s original contribution to knowledge is a cultural-historical examination of an authentic interdisciplinary partnership at the intersection of the arts and engineering. This observational case study focuses on how creativity activity and interdisciplinary learning emerged as part of a College of Fine Arts course. Course participants included 23 undergraduate fine arts, communication, and engineering majors and their two instructors. This observational case study followed these participants for 14 weeks as they collaborated to design, build, film, and edit practical movie special effects. Within the cultural-historical context of this course, it was the practitioners who made interdisciplinary learning possible. This study found that creativity activity (i.e., those activities that result in new motives, goals, and operations) emerged through artistic constraints as metaconditions. Weekly routines enabled creative activity along with the use of shared spaces and consistent communication protocols. Routines inhibited creative activity when they blocked access, led to scheduling conflicts, and caused delays. The instructors established the pedagogical structure of the course, which provided students with enough scaffolding for creative activity to thrive. Interdisciplinary learning took place when a knowledgeable peer would step back to allow a learner to step up to a task. These steps are part of The Six Steps of Interdisciplinary Learning, which are outlined in this dissertation as a distributed pedagogical content knowledge (PCK) learning model. This interdisciplinary collaboration between artists and engineers influenced perceptions about each other’s disciplines. These findings include that engineers working in an arts-based context were able to put theory into practice in a way that is “not supposed to be perfect.” This interdisciplinary collaboration allowed engineers and fine art majors to gain an appreciation for each other’s knowledge, skills, and abilities. However, some tensions did arise between artists and engineers that led to gatekeeping and resentment. Despite this resentment, the rallying point of the study became the universal respect that emerged when engineers began painting. Findings also include the elicitation of peer and instructor feedback via Slack. Discussion includes suggestions for researcher-practitioner partnerships and a reflection about the current state of science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics (STEAM) in higher education.


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