Concept maps have emerged as a valid and reliable method for assessing deep conceptual understanding in engineering education within disciplines as well as interdisciplinary knowledge integration across disciplines. Most work on concept maps, however, focuses on undergraduates. In this paper, we use concept maps to examine changes in graduate students’ conceptual understanding and knowledge integration resulting from an interdisciplinary graduate program.
Our study context is pair of foundational, team-taught courses in an interdisciplinary Disaster Resilience and Risk Management (DRRM) graduate program. The courses include a 3-hour research course and a 1-hour seminar that aim to build student understanding within and across Urban Affairs and Planning, Civil and Environmental Engineering, Geosciences, and Business Information Technology. The courses introduce core principles of DRRM and relevant research methods in these disciplines, and drive students to understand the intersections of these disciplines in the context of planning for and responding to natural and human-made disasters. To understand graduate student growth from disciplinary-based to interdisciplinary scholars, we pose the research questions: 1) In what ways do graduate students’ understandings of DRRM change as a result of their introduction to an interdisciplinary graduate research program? and 2) To what extent and in what ways do concept maps serve as a tool to capture interdisciplinary learning in this context?
Data includes pre/post concept maps centered on disaster resilience and risk management, a one-page explanation of the post-concept map, and ethnographic field notes gathered from class and faculty meetings. Pre-concept maps were collected on the first day of class; post-concept maps will be collected as part of the final course assignment. We assess the students’ concept maps for depth of conceptual understanding within disciplines and interdisciplinary competency across disciplines, using the field notes to provide explanatory context.
The results presented in this paper support the inclusion of an explanation component to concept maps, and also suggest that concept maps alone may not be the best measure of student understanding of concepts within and across disciplines in this specific context. If similar programs wish to use concept maps as an assessment method, we suggest the inclusion of an explanation component and suggest providing explicit instructions that specify the intended audience. We also suggest using a holistic scoring method, as it is more likely to capture nuances in the concept maps than traditional scoring methods, which focus solely on counting factors like hierarchies and number of cross-links.
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