campus partner(s)

Social Science Research Council






Fresh Thinking

award date


project director

Diana Rhoten

Social Science Research Council

Grant Summary

$99,990 over 12 months. A "catch fire" idea of 21st century liberal arts education has been renewed enthusiasm for interdisciplinarity. This has resulted in the diffusion of new practices touting various forms of integrative learning and understanding. It has done so, however, without the design of appropriate frameworks to assess if and how these programs are actually advancing student thinking, being, and doing in ways different than those of their departmental predecessors. In fact, today, the lack of criteria for judging the quality of student cognition, motivation, and action is the biggest challenge to interdisciplinary theory and practice, in large part because these are least understood and understudied aspects of the question - particularly at the undergraduate level.

Focusing specifically on undergraduate students engaged in interdisciplinary programs at liberal arts institutions, the Social Science Research Council will convene a Working Group of higher education researchers and liberal arts leaders to address this critical shortcoming in the literature and practice.

Toward the design of an empirically-grounded and action-oriented framework for assessing the value of interdisciplinary programs in a liberal arts education, the Working Group will accomplish the following tasks: 1. Define what is meant by "interdisciplinarity," in terms of undergraduate students' habits of mind and products of work. 2. Develop "value-added" indicators and measures that will identify presence of and measure progress toward integrative learning and understanding in the habits and products of undergraduate students engaged in interdisciplinary programs versus disciplinary majors. 3. Determine possible implications (positive and negative) of different interdisciplinary versus disciplinary program types for the development of student cognition, motivation, and action.