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Innovation and the Zone of Proximal Development in Engineering Education

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2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


New Orleans, Louisiana

Publication Date

June 26, 2016

Start Date

June 26, 2016

End Date

August 28, 2016





Conference Session

Entrepreneurship & Engineering Innovation Division Technical Session 6

Tagged Division

Entrepreneurship & Engineering Innovation

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Paper Authors


Nicholas D. Fila Purdue University

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Nicholas D. Fila is a Ph.D. candidate 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 engineering design.

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Todd M. Fernandez Purdue University, West Lafayette

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Todd is a PhD Student in Engineering Education at Purdue University who's research is focused on entrepreneurship education and entrepreneurship education as a component of modern engineering education efforts.

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Senay Purzer Purdue University, West Lafayette Orcid 16x16

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Ṣenay Purzer is an Associate Professor in the School of Engineering Education. Her research examines how engineering students approach innovation. She also studies informed design practices among college and pre-college students . She serves on the editorial boards of Science Education and the Journal of Pre-College Engineering Education (JPEER).

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Austin Spencer Bohlin Purdue University, West Lafayette

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I am a freshman in engineering at Purdue University. I am currently working as an undergraduate research assistant for the Engineering Education department through INSPIRE.

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Recent scholarship has emphasized incorporating innovation experiences into engineering curricula. These experiences are often positive, especially when students have the opportunity to solve novel but challenging problems, navigate their own processes, critically reflect on their experiences, and receive appropriate levels of support and scaffolding. This study further explores the role of scaffolding on innovation and non-innovative projects through the lens of Vygotsky’s theory of proximal development. Ten engineering seniors participated in semi-structured interviews focusing on their experiences with innovative and non-innovative projects and their general perspectives related to innovation. We utilized a qualitative content analysis approach to identify students’ experiences within and outside of Vygotsky’s zone of proximal development during innovation projects to which students felt they did and did not substantially contribute and non-innovative projects. Analysis revealed distinct characterizations aligned with experiences preceding, within, beyond their zones of proximal development on the three project types. These findings have key implications for those learning to become innovative and the way educators utilize innovation projects in the context of engineering education. In particular, they demonstrate strong connections between tasks in the zone of proximal development, how students develop technical and professional competencies during innovation projects, and how instructors may structure their projects to improve learning and innovation outcomes by establishing support practices from a variety of individuals.

Fila, N. D., & Fernandez, T. M., & Purzer, S., & Bohlin, A. S. (2016, June), Innovation and the Zone of Proximal Development in Engineering Education Paper presented at 2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, New Orleans, Louisiana. 10.18260/p.27312

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