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The Interface between Cognitive Science and Innovation

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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 4

Tagged Division

Entrepreneurship & Engineering Innovation

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Paper Authors


Michael J. Dyrenfurth Purdue University, West Lafayette

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Michael J. Dyrenfurth is a Professor and Graduate Program Coodinator in the Department of Technology Leadership and Innovation in the Polytechnic Institute of the Purdue University. He is a member of the ASEE and he has served on both the ENT and the ETD Board of directors and as program chair for the ASEE ENT (2014) and the CIEC in New Orleans (2008). Previously he completed a four year term as Assistant Dean for Graduate Studies in Purdue University’s College of Technology.

He was co-PI of two international EU-FIPSE funded grants. His scholarship agenda focuses on technological innovation, technological literacy, workforce development, and international dimensions of these fields. Increasingly, he has turned his attention to the field of technological innovation and the assessment of technological capability, understanding and innovation.

Internationally he has worked in Germany, South Africa, Poland, the USSR, Saudi Arabia, Canada, Ireland, Scotland, England, France, Czech and Slovak Republics, Finland, the Netherlands, Switzerland, and Taiwan His early experience involved teaching in Alberta and at universities in North Dakota and New Jersey.

Immediately before coming to Purdue, he served as graduate coordinator for the Industrial Education and Technology Department at Iowa State University. Previously, for twenty years, he was on the faculty of the University of Missouri’s Department of Practical Arts and Vocational Technical Education in various professorial, coordinator and leadership roles. He maintains a consulting practice in the area of third party evaluation, technology futuring and leadership and curriculum development.

He received his Ph.D. from Bowling Green State University and his Masters and Bachelor’s degrees at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.

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The interface between Cognitive Science and Innovation

This paper addresses an observed shortcoming of university efforts towards innovation – particularly at land grant STEM-focused institutions. Specifically the observation is that considerably more effort has been expended on actions towards realization and commercialization of ideas than has been invested in research on the actual ideation process, how it occurs in the minds of the ideators, as well as which conditions promote it. This hypothesis is borne out by comparing university investments in ideation research to funds appropriated for realization and commercialization.

Given the aforementioned observation, the author sought to develop a base for subsequent research into the processes involved in ideation as they occur in the minds of the innovator(s). As such this is a work-in-progress and the description it presents of the interface between cognitive science and innovation will serve as the theoretical framework for subsequent research. Furthermore this research is expected to be interdisciplinary in that it will likely involve the disciplines of psychology and cognitive science as well as those of engineering and technology education. The goal for this is to better understand ideation and thereby create more effective programs to help participants become more innovative. The paper is structured into the following sections: • An introduction overviewing the importance of innovation studies • Presentation of a model for the concept of innovation • A summary of the key principles of cognitive science • Highlighting of metacognition as a key factor for the ideator’s conscious regulation of the innovation process • Discussion of the role of motivation as a driver of innovation • Proposal of a composite model of the mental processes related to innovation • Presentation of a set of questions, emanating from the proposed model, that would seem advantageous to guide/frame subsequent research activity • Summary • References

The concept of innovation is first overviewed in terms of its importance to problem solving, creating of opportunities, growing the economy, and of challenging people. Subsequently the context for innovation is explained using the activity sectors of economic development, workforce development, quality improvement, sustainability, efficiency enhancement, and technology advancement. Finally the introductory portion of the paper concludes with the presentation of the author’s concept for innovation, i.e., a model that encompasses the full spectrum of activity beginning with ideation and then ranging through to realization and commercialization.

Subsequently, the paper focuses on the front end of the aforementioned innovation continuum, namely ideation, and the critical dimensions of mental activity ideation involves. It is posited that these are better understood and studied through the lens of cognitive science. A systematic review of the scholarly literature revealed that the topic of ideation, as applied to engineering and technology, has received considerably less research effort than has realization and commercialization. The three major findings of this review are highlighted by providing summaries of each: (1) the principles of cognitive science, (2) the concept and processes of metacognition, and the motivations for innovation. Based on these findings the author then generated a composite model for the metal processes involved in innovation. Both graphic and taxonomic descriptions of this composite model are be presented.

Finally the paper concludes with a set of questions/research topics that represent fruitful areas for further research that would certainly help engineering and technology educators develop programs to enhance both the capability for innovation as well as the proclivity to innovate. A carefully selected list of references is provided and session time will be allowed for audience questions/comments solicited to guide future research directions.

Dyrenfurth, M. J. (2016, June), The Interface between Cognitive Science and Innovation Paper presented at 2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, New Orleans, Louisiana. 10.18260/p.26199

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