Assessing Knowledge Transfer

The National Science Foundation offered financial support to several programs in the 90’s and early 2000’s which participated in the Foundations Coalition – an initiative for integrating engineering curriculum, including math, physics, reading, writing, and chemistry when necessary.

The Foundations Coalition stressed the theory that an integrated curriculum would increase knowledge transfer, or students’ ability to link ideas across disciplines, building connections between topics. Engineers are especially required to have a high rate of transferable learning, because they are problem solvers who must apply their knowledge in a variety of situations.

The Foundations Coalition provides research support for integrated learning in increasing transfer:

  1. How People Learn teaches that the context a student learns in is essential for promoting transfer: “Knowledge that is taught in only a single context is less likely to support flexible transfer than knowledge that is taught in multiple contexts. With multiple contexts, students are more likely to abstract the relevant features of concepts and develop a more flexible representation of knowledge.”
  2. Qualitative studies and the University of California Berkeley, which consisted of interviewing 70 engineering students about their college experiences, concluded that the majority of the students (60%) noted the benefit of linking curriculum across subjects.

Further, we know from the resources in Juha Sorva’s dissertation that experts in a field exhibit  more connections between the knowledge that they have than novices do. We can infer then that integrated curriculum would help increase the number of connections that students are making as they learn.

I have found some integrated engineering exams posted by Texas A&M University, one of the Foundations Coalitions members. These exams from spring 1996 and Fall 1995 demonstrate how the Foundations curriculum targets then assesses knowledge transfer.

[1] How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience, and School.

[2] “A Framework for Interpreting Students’ Perceptions of an Integrated Curriculum” by A McKenna, et al.

[3] Curriculum Integration – Students linking ideas across disciplines


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