The assessment of interdisciplinary education is no longer a hurdle

Studenten werken samen aan een interdisciplinair vraagstuk

Assessment can be a hurdle for lecturers who are interested in interdisciplinary education. A shame, according to Biology lecturer Fred Wiegant. With the aid of colleagues and resources from the EMP (linked to the faculty USO) he made an assessment matrix that can help lecturers with assessing interdisciplinary skills of students.

In recent years, increasing attention has been paid to setting up interdisciplinary courses and programmes. Fred: ‘This is mainly because employers more often look for people who can work in multidisciplinary teams. The problems in our society are becoming more complex, and we see that these cannot be solved within one discipline. Therefore, the ability to collaborate within multidisciplinary teams to tackle these complex problems is often required. As such, having supplementary skills is becoming increasingly important.’ 

The work field needs disciplinary academics with interdisciplinary competences

Assessment is the biggest challenge

According to Fred, the biggest challenge in interdisciplinary education is not designing courses and assignments, but assessment: ‘Existing rubrics are often aimed at assessing written products, but in interdisciplinary education other skills are just as important. Consider: how do you cooperate with others? Can you put yourself in the perspective of another discipline? Can you find a common ground, and integrate different disciplinary concepts, ideas and perspectives?’


For the initial design of the assessment matrix, an overview of relevant literature was made and existing problems in assessment were identified. In addition, Master students, PhD-candidates, and researchers were also asked to share their experiences of the type of competences they needed when working in an interdisciplinary environment. Based on these findings a set of rubrics were adapted and/or designed. 

Furthermore, students at Biology and the UCU gave each other peer feedback using the newly developed rubric, and the rubric was discussed at the Special Interest Group ‘Interdisciplinarity’. Finally, the assessment matrix went through a last round of improvements. 

Educational support

Karin Scager, who has recently retired, was involved in the project as educational consultant (from O&T). Fred: ‘When talking about interdisciplinary education you will always meet Karin. She is a versatile expert in this field and has helped me with this project with her creative insights and maintaining the correct focus.’

Interesting for all faculties

Both the assessment matrix and the end report are interesting for all faculties. The report summarises often cited and useful articles in the field of interdisciplinary assessment in Sciences, Social Sciences, and Humanities. The definition of interdisciplinarity is also further clarified and attention is paid to the competences that need to be developed in education and those that are required for functioning well in an interdisciplinary team. The beauty of the matrix is that you, depending on the assignment or skill you want to assess, can select the related aspects to be used in your rubric.

The rubric for interdisciplinary writing assignments is already in use with fellow lecturers. ‘Recently, a document was sent to me as a useful tip by a colleague. It was my own rubric!’

New insights

Aside from concrete products, the project has also provided several new insights. Fred: ‘We now have a better understanding of the competences needed to function well in a multidisciplinary team. The project has also provided valuable information for the Comenius project (Senior Fellow) on which I’m working: designing a learning track interdisciplinarity within a disciplinary programme.’

Professionalisation of disciplinary lecturers will be given more prominence

On top of this, there is now a clearer picture of the problems disciplinary lecturers face when teaching interdisciplinary education. Professionalisation of disciplinary lecturers (including assessment) will be given more prominence, such as in the new course Interdisciplinarity which is organised by the Centre of Academic Teaching. Iris van der Tuin (Dean Interdisciplinary Education) and Esther Slot (educational consultant at O&T) will be teaching the new course.


About the EMP

The Educational Resources Pool (Educatieve Middelen Pool, EMP) offers faculties the option of requesting educational advice and support for the improvement and innovation of their education. The EMP can be used for support with a single course, a study component, method, or instrument as well as a complete curriculum, educational organisation, or quality assurance. 

This article is part of a series of articles about EMP-projects of the UU. You can also look up this project in the Educational Database of the Centre of Academic Teaching.