A Collaborative Learning and Transdisciplinary Model for Undergraduate Innovation Education
A student’s education should be reflective of the innovative and progressive nature of the professional world. While innovation was previously viewed as an economic driver or technological concept in the 20th century, modern times have innovation permeating into all branches of society, intending to seek and develop new knowledge and ideas across any academic and professional disciplines. With this inclusion of innovation in all aspects of society, students should be provided educational opportunities to develop innovation capabilities, skills, and mindsets that can better prepare them for the professional world as well as for making both societal and personal impact. Innovation-focused education has been positioned to aid in 1) developing social responsibility in students, 2) fostering innovative behaviors that can benefit the organizations in which students become part of in their future, 3) empowering students to pursue their own personal ventures, and 4) enhancing the economy of a nation. And, using a transdisciplinary approach to teaching innovation, can be one approach to bridge, or even break down, the silos that exist within modern higher education—creating a more authentic community of practice to nourish student learning and their innovative ideas. Researchers have found that innovation capabilities are not typically a by-product of traditional comprehensive education and without specific curriculum to cultivate innovation practices among students across majors, many may be missing out on valuable knowledge and skillsets. Addressing this concern, an undergraduate model at Purdue University has been developed to provide students with the time, resources, and opportunities to enhance their innovation capabilities through co-teaching and co-learning from faculty and students from differing academic units/colleges. This model brings together the disciplinary lenses from three different colleges, including engineering technology, business management, and liberal arts. Engaging students in a transdisciplinary, authentic learning experience across these academic units can allow them to form a community of practice by working on innovation projects over multiple semesters within an engaged network of faculty, peers, and mentors from a variety of disciplines. However, as this model is implemented there is a need to better understand how this collaborative approach to teaching innovation influences undergraduate learning. Therefore, this study 1) examined student perceptions of this innovation education model related to its co-teaching and co-learning pedagogical approach as well as 2) analyzed the influence of this model on student innovation skills (i.e., integrative learning, teamwork, and problem solving). To do so, data was collected from Likert-style prompts and open-ended survey responses and semi-structured interviews and analyzed using thematic coding and a non-parametric Wilcoxon signed-rank test. The results of this analysis revealed 1) working in teams is a necessary evil for many students, 2) cross-college collaboration enhances brainstorming and ideation in general, 3) a collaborative, transdisciplinary setting for learning allows for the application of prior knowledge, and 4) multiple instructors allowed for a greater range of feedback throughout the design process, among other findings in regard to student perceptions of the collaborative teaching and learning model. In addition, the results indicated that there was a statistically significant difference in the students’ perceptions of their innovation capabilities related to all sub-constructs of both integrative learning and problem solving, while students’ perceptions of their abilities relating to teamwork were less consistent. Leveraging these results, discussions around best ways to implement a similar model of teaching in other contexts, the benefits students identified from working collaboratively with individuals outside of their academic unit, and optimal strategies for developing this model have been brought to life. Also, aligning to the data collected in this study, recommendations for educational practice, such as consistency between instructors, alternative strategies for using a similar model in a different time-span, and students identified issues and potential solutions have been provided as well as continued needs for future research. All of this information is positioned to help inform future innovation education research, identifying benefits and drawbacks of the collaborative form of teaching and learning, and analyzing students’ self-perceptions of the skills they developed. Hopefully, this information will be valuable as more institutions look toward transforming teaching and learning practices to provide more engaging, cross-college models that enhance the value of the learning experiences they provide to students on their campuses.