Boundary crossing explained

Boundary crossing is the competence to learn from and co-create with others outside one’s own scientific domain, institute, culture, or context. Boundary crossing is at the forefront of the educational vision of Wageningen University and has been a topic of its educational innovation and research. It is needed for educating the graduates - in our case engineers - of the future.

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The BC@WUR education innovation project

From 2018 onwards, WUR started to design and implement boundary crossing learning activities and trajectories in education. To read all about this Comenius Leadership project, the steps taken, the lessons learned, the key success factors and other relevant information for other educational institutions who want to start working on BC in their education read this paper ([in English] Fortuin et al, 2023) or this paper ([in Dutch] Oonk et al, 2023)

Innovation and engineers of the future

Engineers of the future can work on challenging societal problems and science for impact. Not only from a technical viewpoint, but also considering social, ethical, cultural and societal sides of the problem. It requires people to effectively collaborate and make use of the diversity of perspectives, with a critical and open stance towards their own perspectives, values and expertise. However, collaborating with people different from you is difficult and can lead to tensions and misunderstandings and sometimes brings about internal – or identity – conflict as well. This is where boundary crossing competence becomes essential, also as part of students’ educational path.

Developing BC competence: the four learning mechanisms

Boundary crossers see differences between people as learning opportunities. Opportunities to create more together, broaden one's horizon and grow as a professional. However, our initial human response in the face of tension between people who are different then you are, is to look away and to make it easy on ourselves.

The four learning mechanisms of boundary crossing (Akkerman & Bakker, 2011; Gulikers & Oonk, 2019) offer handles to develop boundary crossing competence. They can be used in defining learning objectives, creating learning activities and assessment of courses and learning trajectories. Through the Comenius Leadership Project “Boundary Crossing as modus operandi @ WUR”, WUR teachers have developed activities, tools, learning trajectory designs, professional development activities and templates as well as a further conceptual understanding of how boundary crossing can enrich the education of the engineer/graduate of the future. The tools, and later updates, can be found in the Boundary Crossing Toolbox.

More information and explanation on the four BC learning mechanisms, can be found in this knowledge clip, in this document or on this paper on a BC rubric.