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Challenges to and Development of Innovation Discovery Behaviors Among Engineering Students

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2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Seattle, Washington

Publication Date

June 14, 2015

Start Date

June 14, 2015

End Date

June 17, 2015





Conference Session

Entrepreneurship & Engineering Innovation Division – Evaluating Student Behaviors and Attitudes

Tagged Division

Entrepreneurship & Engineering Innovation

Tagged Topic


Page Count


Page Numbers

26.338.1 - 26.338.18



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Paper Authors


Nicholas D. Fila Purdue University

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Nicholas D. Fila is a Ph.D. student in the School of Engineering Education at Purdue University. He earned a B.S. in Electrical Engineering and a M.S. in Electrical and Computer Engineering from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. His current research interests include innovation, empathy, and teamwork in engineering design.

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Justin L Hess Purdue University, West Lafayette Orcid 16x16

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Justin Hess is a Ph.D. candidate at Purdue University's School of Engineering Education and a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellow. He received his B.S. in Civil Engineering in 2011 with a minor in philosophy and his M. S. in Civil Engineering in 2015. His research focuses on understanding engineers' core values, dispositions, and worldviews. His dissertation focuses on conceptualizations, the importance of, and methods to teach empathy within engineering. He is currently the Education Director for Engineers for a Sustainable World and an assistant editor for Engineering Studies.

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Paul D. Mathis Purdue University, West Lafayette

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Engineering Education PhD undergraduate student at Purdue University. Previously a high school educator for six years with a masters in education curriculum and BS in physical science.

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Senay Purzer Purdue University, West Lafayette Orcid 16x16

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Ṣenay Purzer is an Assistant Professor in the School of Engineering Education. She is the recipient of a 2012 NSF CAREER award, which examines how engineering students approach innovation. She serves on the editorial boards of Science Education and the Journal of Pre-College Engineering Education (JPEER). She received a B.S.E with distinction in Engineering in 2009 and a B.S. degree in Physics Education in 1999. Her M.A. and Ph.D. degrees are in Science Education from Arizona State University earned in 2002 and 2008, respectively.

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Challenges to and Development of Innovation Discovery Behaviors among Engineering StudentsInnovation is the process of developing novel and functional products, processes, and systemsthat appropriately address key user needs. As the role of innovation in engineering has grown,engineering educators have become increasingly focused on preparing engineering students tomeet innovative challenges. Recent literature suggests, however, that engineering students oftenlack the skills and mindsets necessary to be innovative. For example, reports indicate thatstudents do not view creativity as an important aspect of the engineering design process,emphasize technical details over a better understanding of the design problem, and are unable toidentify design solutions that are both feasible and novel. Other studies propose that engineeringstudents may indeed possess the skills and mindsets necessary for innovation, but theengineering identity they develop throughout their undergraduate education may limit theirwillingness or ability to demonstrate those skills and mindsets in an engineering context. Withthis study, we sought to understand how engineering students developed and utilized fourbehaviors commonly linked to innovativeness in an engineering context. These behaviorsinclude: questioning, experimenting, networking, and observing (as described by TheInnovator’s DNA). Our specific research questions were: 1) What level do engineering students achieve on the four discovery behaviors? 2) What do engineering students describe as challenges to developing these behaviors? 3) What do engineering students describe as promoting the development of these behaviors?One-hundred sixty-three engineering students at all postsecondary academic levels and fourteenengineering majors completed an established survey on the four discovery behaviors. Nine ofthese students (representing demographic variety comparable to the complete sample)participated in follow-up interviews to discuss the constructs measured by the survey and theiruse in an engineering or engineering education context. We compared student survey results to aset of published scores of professional innovators on the same survey. When comparing to expertinnovators, students scored lower on questioning and networking. Overall, students scored loweron networking compared to the three other behaviors.Qualitative content analysis was used to address the second and third research questions.Excerpts in which students described utilizing, learning, or avoiding the four discovery behaviorsduring the course of their education were identified. These excerpts were open and then axiallycoded to identify patterns that suggested promoters and inhibitors to the behaviors. Thesepatterns could refer specifically to a single behavior or multiple behaviors. Preliminary analysisrevealed fifteen inhibitors and seven promoters spanning personal characteristics, classroomcontexts, and relevance to engineering or a student’s specific discipline. Paired with the surveyresults these patterns suggest a complex interplay between student characteristics, instructionalpractices, and larger social contexts in a student’s development of innovation relatedcompetencies. Results from this study may help engineering educators understand howclassroom and curricular practices may aid students in developing and demonstrating innovationcompetencies in an engineering context.

Fila, N. D., & Hess, J. L., & Mathis, P. D., & Purzer, S. (2015, June), Challenges to and Development of Innovation Discovery Behaviors Among Engineering Students Paper presented at 2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Seattle, Washington. 10.18260/p.23677

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