First Advisor

Erin E. Shortlidge

Term of Graduation

Spring 2020

Date of Publication


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Biology






Interdisciplinary approach in education, Science -- Study and teaching (Higher) -- Evaluation



Physical Description

1 online resource (x, 178 pages)


Science has undergone a major transformation in the 20th and 21st centuries with new fields emerging at the intersection of disciplines, such as bioethics, bioinformatics, and chemical ecology. Yet, opportunities to engage with interdisciplinary science, and the skills needed to work in these fields, are largely absent from undergraduate biology classrooms. As a consequence, students are potentially deprived of opportunities to think interdisciplinarily and engage with real-world issues that often necessitate interdisciplinary efforts. To be informed citizens in society and forward-thinking scientists in the workforce, undergraduate students will undoubtedly benefit from exposure to these interdisciplinary science experiences.

Given these considerations, national conversations were initiated in 2007 on what undergraduate biology education should look like in the 21st century. In 2011, a summary of these deliberations were reported in Vision and Change in Undergraduate Biology Education: A Call to Action. The report detailed several core competencies that students must harness by the time they graduate to be better prepared for the workforce, one of them being "the ability to tap into the interdisciplinary nature of science". However, there is little agreement among experts on what interdisciplinary science even means, much less how to provide students with opportunities that foster their understanding or assess if and how they are conceptualizing this competency.

In this dissertation, I developed a unified definition of interdisciplinary science, leveraging survey data collected from scientists and educators nationwide (n=184). Using this definition and literature on interdisciplinary studies, I developed an evidence-based theoretical model to guide practitioners in developing interdisciplinary science curricula and assessments: the Interdisciplinary Science Framework (IDSF).

With a framework in place, I next examined ways to measure undergraduates' interdisciplinary science understanding. I initially tested a preexisting interdisciplinary social science rubric by scoring natural and physical science student essays with the instrument. I examined evidence for the convergent validity of scores from essays (n=71) and same-student interviews (n=25) across four upper-division science courses, revealing that students conceptualized interdisciplinary science more similarly to the IDSF than to the original rubric constructs.

I used these data and the criteria within the IDSF to develop a new assessment instrument--the Interdisciplinary Science Rubric (IDSR)--designed to measure students' understanding of this competency. I tested for aspects of construct validity through convergent evidence of data collected from the IDSR by scoring 102 essay assignments and conducting think-aloud novice (n=22) and expert (n=15) interviews across five courses from three universities. In addition, I tested for evidence of reliability of scores for the IDSR between myself and the instructors of record (k=0.67). The combination of these analyses revealed that the IDSF and IDSR are supported by psychometric evidence and therefore useful in designing interdisciplinary science curricula and assessing students' interdisciplinary science thinking. These resources can assist educators in meeting the benchmarks set forth by Vision and Change to better equip students with the interdisciplinary skills needed to remediate unresolved issues in society.


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