Case Studies of Employing Model Based Reasoning to Improve Transdisciplinary Collaboration Competencies

Symposium C10


The ability to work in a team synthesizing data, information, and perspectives across diverse disciplinary and professional divides is at the heart of addressing sustainability challenges. The National Research Council (2015) report on enhancing the effectiveness of team science called for better understanding of how to achieve such outcomes, identifying seven key challenges. Among the challenges are difficulties achieving deep knowledge integration across the boundaries of respective disciplines, enabling team members to combine their unique knowledge and skills to address a shared research problem. Similarly, research on environmental science education programs has identified integration across disciplines as a major ongoing challenge. Despite continuing rapid growth in environmental-related undergraduate and graduate programs many, if not most, programs are functionally multidisciplinary, and program leaders struggle to design tasks that lead to knowledge integration across disciplines (Vincent et al. 2015). Innovative approaches to leading and managing knowledge integration are needed, and these approaches need to be embedded in student education.

This symposium will describe and illustrate an emerging approach for how to better integrate knowledge across disciplines (Pennington et al. 2016) that employs experiential learning combined with model based reasoning. This approach is based on theories of how people learn and reason during complex problem solving. Four case studies in diverse contexts will be presented by faculty who have developed and tested the approach:

  1. Intensive, ten-day summer training workshop for PhD students on water resources;
  2. Semester-long undergraduate environmental studies class on food systems;
  3. Professional workshop for a management unit of the science-resource management interface;
  4. Graduate student workshop to develop an idealized, interdisciplinary first year course on sustainability and community resilience.


Deana D. Pennington, Associate Professor, Department of Geological Sciences, University of Texas at El Paso
Shirley Vincent, Principal and Owner, Vincent Evaluation Consulting, LLC
David Gosselin, Director of Environmental Studies, University of Nebraska at Lincoln
Rod Parnell, Professor, School Earth Sciences & Environmental Sustainability, Northern Arizona University
Geoffrey Habron, Professor of Earth and Environmental Science, Furman University

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