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The First-to-Fourth Flatline: Assessing Undergraduate Students' Creative Capacity

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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

NSF Grantees Poster Session

Tagged Topic

NSF Grantees

Page Count


Page Numbers

22.1460.1 - 22.1460.18



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Paper Authors

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Holli Burgon University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign


Bruce Elliott-Litchfield University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign

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J. Bruce Elliott-Litchfield is assistant dean in Undergraduate Programs in Engineering. He advises students and directs the Academy for Excellence in Engineering Education, the iFoundry Illinois Engineering First-year Experience, the Learning in Community program, and the Creativity, Innovation, and Vision course suite. He is faculty advisor for Engineers Without Borders and conducts research on what students learn via international service projects and how students learn to enhance creativity. An Illinois alumnus, he earned his bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering, worked in industry for four years, and earned his master’s and doctorate degrees in agricultural and biochemical engineering at Purdue University. Since 1986, he has been on the faculty at the University of Illinois, where he is a professor in the Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering.

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David E. Goldberg University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign

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David E. Goldberg, best known as a leader in the field of genetic algorithms and evolutionary computation, is the Jerry S. Dobrovolny Distinguished Professor in Entrepreneurial Engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and co-director and co-founder of the Illinois Foundry for Innovation in Engineering Education. He is also co-founder and chief scientist of ShareThis Inc., a web2.0 startup. Trained as a civil engineer at the University of Michigan, where he earned his B.S.E. and took his Ph.D. in 1983, Dr. Goldberg has held positions at Michigan, Alabama, and Illinois. Founder and decade-long business committee member for the largest, highest quality conference in genetic and evolutionary computation, he is founding co-chair of the Workshop on Philosophy and Engineering (2007, TUDelft; 2008, Royal Academy of Engineering) and the 2010 Forum on Philosophy, Engineering & Technology (Colorado School of Mines). His widely acclaimed text, Genetic Algorithms in Search, Organization, and Machine Learning (1989) is the 10th-most cited reference on Google Scholar, and his h-index places him among the most cited engineers and computer scientists in the world.

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The First-to-Fourth Flatline: Assessing undergraduate students’ creative capacityGiven current, post-war models of engineering education, we hypothesized that, despite the needfor creative capacity in rapidly-changing global markets, graduating seniors might actually beless creative than their freshmen engineering cohorts. In other words, we theorized that currentmodels of engineering education do not foster creativity, and may actually stifle creativity. Thefindings of the current study confirm these suspicions to some degree, suggesting that, over thecourse of their college education, engineering students do not experience a dramatic change increativity as measured by two nationally-normed creativity assessment instruments: (a) theKirton Adaptor-Innovator Inventory, focused on originality, efficiency and conformity; and (b)the Abbreviated Torrence Test for Adults, focused on divergent-thinking. The sample included78 fourth-year and 132 first-year engineering student volunteers. While the first-and fourth-yearsample means were just above the national sample, no significant differences were foundbetween first- (n=132) and fourth-year (n=78) scores on the KAI. Fourth-year students seemed toscore significantly higher (.01) than freshmen students on the ATTA. Post hoc tests suggestedthat the difference could be attributed to first- and fourth-year males. Despite moderatecorrelations, however, additional multivariate analysis showed no interaction between class andgender on the ATTA. These results imply that undergraduate engineering education may notdiminish creativity; however, it likely does not enhance creativity either. Current curriculummodels create a creative capacity flatline between the first and fourth years. Future studiesshould address how the flatline phenomenon in engineering compares to other disciplines, howengineering curriculum reform might help students become frontline innovators, and how moreauthentic creative capacity measures might be developed.

Burgon, H., & Elliott-Litchfield, B., & Goldberg, D. E. (2011, June), The First-to-Fourth Flatline: Assessing Undergraduate Students' Creative Capacity Paper presented at 2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Vancouver, BC. 10.18260/1-2--18986

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