Modes of Interdisciplinarity: Toward an Interaction Design Undergraduate Pedagogy

Session Title

Modes of Interdisciplinarity: Toward an Interaction Design Undergraduate Pedagogy


Robert Fraher, University of Minnesota

Session Type: Presentation

This proposal is for a presentation and discussion session addressing modes of interdisciplinarity, for the purposes of furthering the development of an interaction design (IxD) undergraduate pedagogy. Interdisciplinarity “involves the integration of knowledge from two or more disciplines within some larger conceptual framework” (Brown, 1993, p.238). The benefits of an interdisciplinary approach include intellectual “intersections so as to discover what might otherwise not be found. Interdisciplinarity brings together the products of focused inquiry to uncover broader patterns, meaningful in themselves and generative of new directions of disciplinary activity” (Dalke, Grobstein, & McCormack, 2006, p.37). In this way, IxD can be understood as inherently interdisciplinary in nature.

However, due to the complex theoretical foundations of IxD, as well as wide-ranging purview of its practice, a comprehensive pedagogical model has yet to be developed for teaching IxD as an undergraduate degree. The purpose of this presentation, and following discussion, is to add to the dialogue surrounding the issue of IxD pedagogy for undergraduate education. To accomplish this, the presentation considers the influence of interdisciplinarity within the undergraduate pedagogies of several of the fields from which IxD has developed. Specifically, this presentation contains a point-by-point comparative analysis of two case studies. Each case study recounts an interdisciplinary model for a course in higher education, between the fields of engineering and human factors, and within the field of architecture. The goal of this analysis is to gain a better understanding of the nature of interdisciplinarity for the purpose of informing IxD undergraduate pedagogy.

This presentation’s comparative analysis will address two aspects of each case study. First, I will outline each case study’s rationale for interdisciplinarity. Second, I will analyze the interdisciplinary model for which the authors of each case study argue. Finally, I will discuss the implications of these observations, and then open the discussion to audience participation.

The most significant obstacle to developing a comprehensive IxD undergraduate pedagogy is the notion that one should become disciplinary before attempting to become interdisciplinary. For this problem, there is no simple solution. However, in light of society’s persistent demand for increasingly complex products and services, I believe that further development of a comprehensive IxD undergraduate pedagogy warrants continued consideration, discussion, and debate.

Brown, M. M. (1993). Philosophical studies in home economics: basic ideas by which home economists understand themselves. East Lansing: Michigan State University.

Dalke, A., Grobstein, P., McCormack, E. (2006). Why and how to be interdisciplinary. Academe, 92(3), 35-37.”


Robert Fraher is a graduate student and instructor at the University of Minnesota pursuing a Master of Fine Art degree in graphic design, with an emphasis on interactivity. Upon completion of this degree, he intends to pursue doctoral studies at this same institution. He has exhibited, published, and presented research in the fields of graphic design, art, instructional design, interaction design, and creativity.


  1. Jordan
    Posted September 8, 2009 at 9:54 pm

    Robert, I appreciate the thought you have put into writing your submission. However, an abstract was asked for, not a thesis proposal. Do you think you could distill your submission down to its key points?

    Remember this is a professional, rather than an academic conference.

  2. Posted October 1, 2009 at 4:44 pm

    I’d like to see a more holistic overview that incorporates recent work by known entities like the folks at SCAD, CM, and other places already dishing out IxD that is, as I understand it, interdisciplinary and incorporates art/aesthetics more clearly.