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Using Process Maps to Understand How Engineering Students Conceptualize Innovation

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2017 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Columbus, Ohio

Publication Date

June 24, 2017

Start Date

June 24, 2017

End Date

June 28, 2017

Conference Session

Entrepreneurship and Innovation: The Student Experience

Tagged Division

Entrepreneurship & Engineering Innovation

Tagged Topic


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Paper Authors


Nicholas D. Fila Purdue University, West Lafayette (College of Engineering)

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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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Senay Purzer Purdue University, West Lafayette (College of Engineering) Orcid 16x16

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Senay Purzer is an Associate 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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Austin Spencer Bohlin Purdue University, West Lafayette (College of Engineering)

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

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Innovation has become a critical competency for engineering students. Engineers are called upon to understand and develop solutions to increasingly complex and challenging problems and produce greater value for a variety of stakeholders. Current research on engineering students and their connection to innovation has focused on two key areas. First, researchers have developed and utilized students assessments based on the knowledge, skills, and attitudes of expert innovators and entrepreneurs. Second, researchers have analyzed project deliverables as meaningful representations represent students’ innovation competency. Yet, innovation is a complex phenomenon. Current understanding of innovation comprises of not only outcomes and individual characteristics, but the processes and environments that support innovative outcomes. In this study, we investigate the breadth of student understanding of innovation processes. More specifically, we ask:

1. To what extent do engineering students acknowledge technological, strategic, societal, financial, competitor, and human considerations as part of their personal innovation processes? 2. To what extent do engineering students acknowledge unique phases of innovation as part of their personal innovation processes?

We utilized a content analysis approach to investigate the above research questions. Thirty-two engineering students (7 first-year students and 25 seniors) each created an individual innovation process map. The process map included stages or activities students would perform in order to identify, develop, and implement an innovative design solution (e.g., idea generation, introduce minimum viable product, etc.). We utilized a think-aloud protocol during data collection to capture both a visual and verbal representation of the students’ innovation processes. We began coding the process maps with an a priori coding protocol based on a previous study that explored technology development process maps created by expert academic and industry innovators. This coding protocol identified six distinct focus areas (technological, strategic, societal, financial, competitor, and human) across five distinct stages (opportunity identification, design and development, testing and preproduction, introduction and production, and life-cycle management). After an initial iterative coding phase to elaborate upon and modify the initial coding protocol for use with the open-ended, student-created process maps, we axially coded all 32 process maps (with acceptable inter-rater reliability).

Analysis of the coding revealed that students favored technological considerations, followed by strategic and societal considerations. Further, about half of the elements coded were in the earliest innovation phase (opportunity identification), with decreasing amounts of elements in each subsequent innovation phase. Thus, overall students emphasis initial and technological stages as part of their innovation processes, but also included elements spanning the several phases and focus areas of innovation. The full paper will also include qualitative analysis of composite process diagrams demonstrate ordering/linkages of phase-focus area combinations. Considered together, these results will describe not only the content of, but also an understanding of common pathways within, student-produced innovation processes.

Fila, N. D., & Purzer, S., & Bohlin, A. S. (2017, June), Using Process Maps to Understand How Engineering Students Conceptualize Innovation Paper presented at 2017 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Columbus, Ohio. 10.18260/1-2--29086

ASEE holds the copyright on this document. It may be read by the public free of charge. Authors may archive their work on personal websites or in institutional repositories with the following citation: © 2017 American Society for Engineering Education. Other scholars may excerpt or quote from these materials with the same citation. When excerpting or quoting from Conference Proceedings, authors should, in addition to noting the ASEE copyright, list all the original authors and their institutions and name the host city of the conference. - Last updated April 1, 2015