Transdisciplinary Education

Transdisciplinary team members transcend the boundaries imposed by their individual disciplinary backgrounds. While multidisciplinary teams divide their project into tasks among members by skills and disciplines, transdisciplinary teams work together throughout all the project's tasks. Because of the diverse perspective required for understanding the variety of application users, designing user interfaces is particularly suited to transdisciplinary teamwork. Especially, agile development which is responsive to changing client requirements requires team members to understand the entire project and assume responsibility of all aspects of the projects.


Teamwork is hard. Efficient teamwork faces challenges that range from physical challenges to emotive challenges. Physical challenges represent the cost arising from dividing a project into tasks among the team members. The challenges originate from team organization, communication between team members, project scheduling and coordination. For a team to efficiently work on a project, the accomplishment of the team should exceed the cost of assembling the team. But for example, a team necessitates that members communicate among themselves. Communication requires time and additional overhead that does not occur if a single individual works on the project. Proper team administration and project tools can minimize many of the project's physical challenge costs.

Emotive challenges represent the cost arising from many personalities working on a project together. Emotive challenges express themselves in project ownership, communication between team members and team organization. Team members argue about leadership and who should make decisions. Feelings are hurt by miscommunication and by the lack of recognition for members' works, resulting in poor moral and decreased productivity. Although a single individual may face emotional challenges, assembly a team implies interactions between the members. Consequently, the potential for emotive disruption grows at least quadratically. Unlike physical challenges, emotive challenges cannot be expressed as efficiently cost and amenably to team administration control.

Agile transdisciplinary teams exasperate team challenges, especially emotive challenges. Although hierarchical team structure can control emotive disruption by limiting the growth of interaction between members, hierarchical teams also lose the advantages offered by transdisciplinary teams. The goal of agile transdisciplinary teaming is to increase the diversity of perspective to creatively solve complex problems while retaining the nimbleness to respond to project changes. These goals can only be achieved by team with democratic ownership and cooperative structure.


Our research in agile transdisciplinary teaming focuses on teamwork in project based user-centered design and development courses. I believe that learning is best achieved by real life experiences. Projects are a better approximation to real life experiences than isolated short term assignment, and user-centered design courses offers opportunities for creative solution to complex problems that transdisciplinary teams excel.

The transdisciplinary teams are built from collaborating courses. The initial collaboration was between undergraduate human-computer interaction (HCI) CS course focused on user-centered design and implementation and a graduate HCI course focused on user interface evaluation and usability testing. The collaboration was inspired from the realization that undergraduate students frequently lack experience to design for others and a desire to have usability testing with real potential users of the students' projects. The accomplishments of the collaboration is undergraduate inherit realization of the need to design for other by observing the usability tests.

Our Citizen-Science project introduced real clients and the need for substantial app development. An additional collaboration with a third course in the humanities addressed these needs. Teams were created from three classes and students from all three courses formed teams to create apps for real scientists. Development teams composed of the three disciplines working with a real client and real potential users created opportunities for real agile transdisciplinary teams. Studying the process and accomplishment of the teams, we learned that administratively supporting the teams was not sufficient for successful teams. The teams need emotive support and clients need educating on their role within the team.

Study teamwork in an academic setting is nearly a "study in the wild." Although teamwork in an academic environment is not identical to teamwork in an industry setting, study teamwork and transdisciplinary teams in an academic setting offers unique advantages from studies in the wild. The discipline and background of each student is clearly demarcated by the student's enrollment. The structure of the teams and project processes can be controlled, and intervention can consequentially be introduced at any project phases. Finally, the effects of intervention can be compared across the different teams.

Graduate students in Computer Science and Human Factors can study the communication between disciplines, team processes and effects of project processes or team structure, besides other. Graduate students interested in agile transdisciplinary teamwork for their dissertation or thesis research can contact me. We can discuss your interests and research opportunities in more detail.