Comparative Dimensions of Disciplinary Culture
McNair, Lisa D.
Paretti, Marie C.
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Despite calls to promote creativity as “an indispensable quality for engineering” , the U.S. engineering educational system has been slow to develop pedagogies that successfully promote innovative behaviors. Engineers need more creativity and interdisciplinary fluency, but engineering instructors often struggle to provide such skills without sacrificing discipline-specific problem-solving skills. At the same time, engineering programs continue to struggle with attracting and retaining members of underrepresented populations—populations whose diversity could greatly contribute to innovation. Interestingly, the lack of diversity in engineering is often attributed to cultural traits of the field, which is often characterized as masculine, individualistic, and function-oriented. To address these issues, we have undertaken a 3-year study to investigate patterns of cultural traits in students across disciplines, and to build an actionable theory of engineering culture that can support pedagogies of inclusive and collaborative innovation as well as strategies for recruiting and retention efforts. In this paper, we present preliminary results from our survey in order to define how Hofstede’s dimensions of national culture map to 14 majors in a research university. Specifically, we are applying Hofstede’s original four dimensions of national business cultures (power distance, uncertainty avoidance, individualism, masculinity)  to academic disciplines to explain how students develop skills to operate within and across disciplinary boundaries. To do so, we are addressing the following research questions: 1. How do Hofstede’s dimensions of national cultures map to academic disciplines? 2. Do different majors have different disciplinary cultures according to Hofstede’s dimensions? This research purpose is to understand how students in different disciplines behave and perceive their majors. The information presented builds up on a pilot study where we applied Hofstede’s instrument with no major findings. However, we improved the survey based on the responses and expanded it outside engineering majors.