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Natural Sciences Education Abstract - Articles

Synergistic Knowledge Development in Interdisciplinary Teams


This article in NSE

  1. Vol. 36 No. 1, p. 129-133
    Received: Dec 21, 2006

    * Corresponding author(s): srb237@cornell.edu
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  1. Shorna R. Broussard *a,
  2. Joseph Mick La Lopab and
  3. Amy Ross-Davisc
  1. a Cornell Univ., Dep. of Natural Resources, 122C Fernow Hall, Ithaca, NY 14853
    b Purdue Univ., Dep. of Hospitality and Tourism Management, 700 West State Street, Room 103, West Lafayette, IN 47907
    c USDA Forest Service, 1221 S. Main Street, Moscow, ID 83843-4211


Problem solving, interpersonal skills, information literacy, and critical and independent thinking are essential qualities that employers seek, yet many undergraduates lack. We structured an interdisciplinary classroom and experiential learning environment where students from three undergraduate courses (Hospitality and Tourism Management, Landscape Architecture, and Forestry and Natural Resources) designed a sustainable community master plan by investigating the economic, social, and environmental components of a U.S. highway relocation project. Interdisciplinary teams of students were charged with a “problem” that was articulated in the form of a Request for Proposals (RFP). This RFP served as the basis for the group work, which required an interdisciplinary approach. The ability of students to work together to complete the project was analyzed using the construct of synergistic knowledge development (SKD), a process by which a group constructively integrates diverse perspectives of individual group members. We posited that SKD would increase over the semester and that SKD would be influenced by various team dynamics such as task conflict, psychological safety, social interaction, attitudes toward problem-based learning (PBL) in a team setting, and behavioral styles of team members. Assessment of SKD and the variables hypothesized to influence it were assessed via a survey administered after the initial phase of the project and a post-project survey. Results confirmed how social interaction, psychological safety, and attitudes toward PBL in a team setting influence SKD.

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