Purdue University Graduate School
Aleong_Richard_2021_PhD_Traversing_Interdisciplinary_Spaces.pdf (2.6 MB)
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posted on 2021-07-21, 12:47 authored by Richard J. AleongRichard J. Aleong
Disciplinary perspectives, as a core element of interdisciplinary work, represent the ways individuals may see and approach a situation based on their unique disciplinary background and training. Interdisciplinary collaboration requires individuals to leverage disciplinary perspectives and knowledge from diverse fields to build a shared understanding of the problem situation. However, based on the diversity of background and experiences within a team, interdisciplinary collaboration can be a challenge because collaborators must negotiate disciplinary differences, while also fundamentally experiencing the collaborative situation in different ways. Therefore, it is important to understand how individuals engage and experience disciplinary perspectives in their practice of collaboration. In this study, I investigated the nature of disciplinary perspectives in the context of educational development.

The profession of educational development broadly aims to support the teaching and learning mission of higher education institutions, where educational developers work with faculty, graduate students, and administration on teaching, instruction, curriculum, and organizational development across disciplines. As such, educational developers play a significant role in engineering education transformation and offer a unique context to investigate interdisciplinary practice. In this work, educational developers bring their diverse disciplinary perspectives to their collaborative interactions.

In this dissertation, a phenomenographic study was conducted to investigate the following research question: how do educational developers experience disciplinary perspectives in the work of educational development? Phenomenography is a qualitative research approach that focuses on the variation in how a phenomenon is experienced and conceptualized. I adopted a situative theoretical perspective to see disciplinary perspectives in relation to the contexts, social interactions, and activities through which interdisciplinary work is performed. I conducted semi-structured interviews with eighteen educational developers from Centers for Teaching and Learning across the United States and Canada. Participants were recruited from various disciplinary backgrounds and levels of experience. In the interview, participants shared general descriptions about their work, and specific descriptions of an experience where they worked with others who contributed different disciplinary perspectives. Additionally, a scenario-based elicitation exercise was used to frame participants’ description of how diverse disciplinary perspectives appear in their work. The analysis followed an iterative and generative process to discern features and qualities of disciplinary perspectives.

The findings of this study are presented as a phenomenographic outcome space consisting of five categories of description as distinct ways that disciplinary perspectives are experienced by educational developers. Additionally, the findings illustrate how disciplinary perspectives become externalized as an object that is brought forward and shaped in collaborative interactions. This research contributes to further understanding interdisciplinary collaboration in two ways. First, for interdisciplinary practice, the findings provide an integrated view of the variation in ways of experiencing disciplinary perspectives such that educational developers may attune and attend to different collaborative interactions. Second, with the situative perspective, I provide insight into the situated knowledge that constitutes how disciplinary perspectives become meaningful based on educational developers’ position in relation to different disciplinary spaces. My findings highlight the situative relationships between the individual educational developer, their practice with disciplinary perspectives, and their work tasks in educational development. As educational developers continue to develop their practice to advance teaching and learning in higher education, this research contributes to the professional knowledge of educational developers in support of interdisciplinary collaboration.


Degree Type

  • Doctor of Philosophy


  • Engineering Education

Campus location

  • West Lafayette

Advisor/Supervisor/Committee Chair

Robin S. Adams

Additional Committee Member 2

Brent K. Jesiek

Additional Committee Member 3

Joyce B. Main

Additional Committee Member 4

Jim L. Borgford-Parnell