Being able to collaborate with people from different disciplinary backgrounds becomes increasingly important. The (future) challenges that are awaiting our students are very complex and require input from different fields of knowledge in order to be solved. It is therefore of pivotal importance that our students learn to collaborate with people from different disciplines. Universities offer the opportunity for future engineers to experience and experiment with interdisciplinary collaboration in a safe environment that fosters learning and development of students.
Although interdisciplinary collaboration can be very successful, there is abundant research that underlines the difficulties of working with people different from oneself. For example, conflicts are likely to emerge, distribution of tasks and responsibilities can be extremely hard, information sharing and learning might get hampered, and planning and coordination might fail. The question thus is how to facilitate interdisciplinary collaboration in the educational setting? We expect tutors to play an important role in facilitating the collaborative processes in multidisciplinary teams. When students are uncertain how to behave, it is likely that they will heavily rely on the guidance of or on example set by the tutor. Tutors can help to formulate the potential value of interdisciplinary collaboration for the team, but they can also manage students' expectations by sharing own experiences. Furthermore, tutors can actively monitor manage teamwork processes. We aim to design an intervention guideline for tutors.
The course 4WBB0 Engineering Design offers a perfect environment for this investigation. Engineering Design is a course in which all 2nd year TU/e students participate and in which they collaborate in interdisciplinary teams to create something new. All teams have a tutor and tutors need to facilitate the design process, to support, and to motivate their teams. All teams have 11 meetings (tutor included), which makes it easy to distinguish between early-middle- and late stages in the design project, which are natural points in a project team life cycle for a tutor to intervene when necessary.
In the future, we think the developed and validated tool can be easily implemented in other courses that require students to collaborate in highly diverse, interdisciplinary teams.
The overall goal is to gain knowledge on how tutors can facilitate the collaborative processes in interdisciplinary student teams and to develop a tool that guides tutors in their role as team process managers. In this project, we are able to test and evaluate the face validity of the tool by using experts (researchers) and users (tutors). We will disseminate the tool to the tutors online.
In the future, we think the developed and validated tool can be relatively easily implemented in other courses that require students to collaborate in highly diverse, multi- or interdisciplinary teams. We think when tutors and teachers invest in facilitating the collaborative processes in multi- or interdisciplinary teams will benefit our engineering students. Learning to collaborate in a diverse team requires attention and encouragement from educators.