Interdisciplinary Design Course Structure: Lessons for Engineering Instructors from a Capstone Design Course


This paper provides lessons learned from 6 years of developing and delivering an interdisciplinary undergraduate capstone and graduate course titled the Integrated Design Experience (IDX) at Washington State University and the University of Idaho. The IDX course addresses real­world problems with the aim of finding sustainable solutions in the built environment. Students and faculty from engineering, design, and community planning disciplines collaborate with industry, governmental, and professional practice stakeholders to research and develop innovative solutions to complex problems that demand multi­scalar and multi­disciplinary approaches typically outside the range of any single stakeholder.

This paper describes the evolution of interdisciplinary curriculum strategies and expansion of disciplinary involvement and project topics. Introduction The multifaceted nature of the built environment, and the growing demand by future employers for graduates with innovative and collaborative skills, necessitates establishing interdisciplinary learning environments ​1​. To respond to this need, the Washington State University Institute for Sustainable Design (WSU ISD) – a collaboration between a civil and environmental engineering department, a design and construction school, and a material science and engineering research center in the WSU Voiland College of Engineering and Architecture – developed the Integrated Design Experience (IDX) undergraduate capstone and graduate course in 2009. IDX is a teaching, research, and outreach vehicle for students, faculty, clients and mentors to analyze complex natural and built environment problems and design innovative solutions in interdisciplinary teams.

In the IDX model, students and faculty are mutual learners, working collaboratively to achieve both teaching and research outcomes ​3​. In this environment, faculty are less likely to be the sole providers of information and students the sole consumers of the provided information ​2​. Specific objectives of IDX are twofold: 1) deliver an interdisciplinary educational experience for students and 2) foster faculty development and collaboration between diverse disciplines. Course Overview The IDX course addresses sustainable design challenges faced by municipalities, government organizations, and university research groups. Interdisciplinary teams provide unique environments to address the challenges from multiple viewpoints.