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An Experimental Investigation Of The Innovation Capabilities Of Engineering Students

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2010 Annual Conference & Exposition


Louisville, Kentucky

Publication Date

June 20, 2010

Start Date

June 20, 2010

End Date

June 23, 2010



Conference Session

The Best of Design in Engineering Education

Tagged Division

Design in Engineering Education

Page Count


Page Numbers

15.151.1 - 15.151.19



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Paper Authors


Nicole Genco University of Massachusetts Dartmouth

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Nicole is a graduate student in Mechanical Engineering at University of Massachusetts Dartmouth.

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Katja Holtta-Otto University of Massachusetts Dartmouth

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Katja is an assistant professor of Mechanical Engineering at University of Massachusetts Dartmouth.

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Carolyn Conner Seepersad University of Texas, Austin

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

An Experimental Investigation of the Innovation Capabilities of Engineering Students


One of the greatest challenges facing engineering education is the need to educate engineers who can innovate successfully. With increasing calls for enhancing the level of innovation in the national economy, the role of innovation in engineering education is often underemphasized and poorly understood. In this experimental study, we compare the results of concept generation exercises completed by freshman- and senior-level mechanical engineering students. Students were asked to use a modified 6-3-5/C-sketch method to generate concepts for a next-generation alarm clock. Senior-level students were divided into control and subject groups who implemented the standard 6-3-5/C-sketch method and a version of the method enhanced for creativity, respectively. Resulting concepts were analyzed using metrics for novelty, fixation, and quality. The results indicated that the freshman students produced more novel concepts and were less fixated on the sample clocks shown in the experiment. Both freshman and senior groups produced concepts with similar (high) levels of quality and feasibility. The results support the troubling conclusion that freshman engineering students are more innovative than seniors. This conclusion highlights the need for increased emphasis on innovation and creativity in the engineering curriculum.


One of the greatest challenges facing future engineers involves creating innovative products that are competitive in global markets.4,10,12 Despite the accompanying calls for innovation and creativity in engineering education, creativity is still not considered a key part of engineering education.3,20 However, there is evidence that although engineering and non-engineering freshman are equally creative,7 graduating engineers may not be as creative as expected. In fact, freshmen seem to be more capable of solving ill-defined problems that require creative thinking than senior-level engineering students.42 In this paper, the creative outputs of senior and freshman engineering students will be compared, based on the results of a series of controlled concept generation experiments.


Attainment of engineering skill follows a pattern of skill acquisition that is relevant to many domains. The freshman and sophomore years typically represent the first stage, known as the cognitive stage, which involves encoding a skill or learning a set of facts relevant to the skill.15 In engineering, this stage includes acquiring mathematical skills such as calculus, physics principles such as Newton’s laws, and engineering fundamentals such as strength of materials and fluid mechanics. When first learning engineering skills relevant to design, students must repeat these principles as they perform design-related tasks. The next stage, the associative stage, involves a transformation from declarative (fact-based) knowledge to procedural knowledge.2 Errors in developing engineering designs are significantly reduced during this stage as students gain practice in design. For example, students may become more familiar with

Genco, N., & Holtta-Otto, K., & Seepersad, C. C. (2010, June), An Experimental Investigation Of The Innovation Capabilities Of Engineering Students Paper presented at 2010 Annual Conference & Exposition, Louisville, Kentucky. 10.18260/1-2--16397

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