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Factors that Influence the Creativity of Engineering Students

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2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Vancouver, BC

Publication Date

June 26, 2011

Start Date

June 26, 2011

End Date

June 29, 2011



Conference Session

Design Communications & Cognition I

Tagged Division

Design in Engineering Education

Page Count


Page Numbers

22.705.1 - 22.705.15



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Paper Authors

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Nicole E. Genco


Katja Holtta-Otto University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth

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Dr. Holtta-Otto is
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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Factors that influence the creativity of engineering studentsInnovation is said to be the key to keeping the U.S. competitive1. This emphasis has led to a needto teach innovation and creativity as part of standard engineering curricula.2 Creativity iscurrently taught as a set of methods such as brainstorming, TRIZ3, or Design by Analogy4.These ideation techniques have been found to be effective5-8 when compared to unguidedconcept generation. In past work, we showed that while these creativity methods can beeffective, other factors may be even more important in increasing the innovation potential ofengineering students. A particularly interesting finding indicated that freshman students enteringthe engineering program are capable of generating more creative designs than senior students,even if the senior students receive help in the form of a creativity method.9 This finding is in linewith the research in cognitive psychology, which indicates that skill acquisition can decrease aperson’s ability to solve ill defined problems that require creative thinking.10-13We expanded our previous study of the effect of using a creativity method with senior versusfreshman engineering students. To our surprise, the results indicated that the freshman studentswho received help in thinking creatively produced concepts of lower level of creativity than thecontrol group who did not receive any help. The senior students’ results were as predicted, i.e.the senior subject group receiving help in the form of a creativity method outperformed thesenior control group who did not receive any help.The surprising results led us to investigate additional factors that may affect the creative outputof engineering students. During the studies it was obvious that some groups really enjoyed thetask and had fun creating the concepts whereas other groups felt obligated to be part of the study.When this factor was incorporated into the analysis, we found that the groups that did not enjoythe task performed equally well in control and subject groups (p=0.615), whereas the groups thathad fun with the task performed differently. The subject groups, using a creativity method,performed better than the control groups. (p=0.001). In both cases, the metric was a measure ofthe originality of the resulting concepts. The freshman students, who were generally morecreative than the seniors, were hampered by the creativity method. Overall, the evidenceindicates that freshman students outperform senior students in terms of creativity and thatcreativity methods may benefit students with lower levels of creativity but hamper students thatare naturally more creative. Further studies are needed to investigate additional factors andcognitive processes affecting the creative outcome of engineering students. Additional factors toconsider in future studies include the formal structure of the method, the level of acceptance ofthe method, and the degree of fun associated with the creativity enhancing methods (e.g., the useof improv versus sketching).References1. Council on Competitiveness, N. I. (2006). Innovate America.2. ASME Council on Education (2004). A vision of the Future of Mechanical Engineering Education. ASME3. Altshuller, G. (1984). Creativity as an Exact Science. Luxembourg: Gordon and Breach.4. Linsey, J. S. (2007). Design-by-Analogy and Representation in Innovative Engineering Concept Generation. Austin, TX: Ph.D. Dissertation, Mechanical Engineering Department, University of Texas at Austin.5. Mullen, B., Johnson, C., and Salas, E., (1991) "Productivity Loss in Brainstorming Groups: A Meta-Analytic Integration," Basic and Applied Social Psychology, 12(1) pp. 3-23.6. Paulus, P. B., and Yang, H. C., (2000)"Idea Generation in Groups: A Basis for Creativity in Organizations," Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 82(1) pp. 76-87.7. Shah, J. J., (1988). Experimental Investigation of Progressive Idea Generation Techniques in Engineering Design. ASME DETC Design Theory and Methodology Conference.8. Weaver, J., Kuhr, R., Wang, D. Crawford, R., Wood, K., Jensen, D., and Lindey J. (2009) Increasing innovation in multi-functional systems: Evaluation and experimental of two ideation methods for design, ASME DETC Design Theory and Methodology Conference. San Diego.9. Genco, N., Holtta-Otto, K., Seepersad, C.C. (2010) An experimental investigation of the innovation capabilities of engineering students, ASEE Annual Conference and Exposition. Louisville, KY.10. Ericsson, K.A. (1998). The scientific study of expert levels of performance: General implications for optimal learning and creativity. High Ability Studies, 9, 75-100.11. Guilford, J.P. (1967). The nature of human intelligence. New York: McGraw-Hill.12. Weisberg, R.W. (2006). Modes of expertise in creative thinking: Evidence from case studies. In K.A. Ericsson, N. Charness, P.J. Feltovich, & R.R. Hoffman (Eds.), The Cambridge Handbook of Expertise and Expert Performance (pp. 761-787). New York: Cambridge University Press.13. Yang, M. (2008). Prompt versus Problem: Helping Students Learn to Frame Problems and Think Creatively. 2nd Design Creativity Workshop, Third International Conference on Design Computing and Cognition. Atlanta, GA.

Genco, N. E., & Holtta-Otto, K., & Seepersad, C. C. (2011, June), Factors that Influence the Creativity of Engineering Students Paper presented at 2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Vancouver, BC. 10.18260/1-2--17986

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