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What Do Students Learn about Innovation?

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2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Tampa, Florida

Publication Date

June 15, 2019

Start Date

June 15, 2019

End Date

June 19, 2019

Conference Session

Entrepreneurship & Engineering Innovation Division Technical Session 4

Tagged Division

Entrepreneurship & Engineering Innovation

Tagged Topic


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Paper Authors


Nicholas D. Fila Iowa State University

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Nicholas D. Fila is a postdoctoral research associate in Electrical and Computer Engineering and Industrial Design at Iowa State 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 and a Ph.D. in Engineering Education from Purdue University. His current research interests include innovation, empathy, engineering design, course design heuristics.

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Justin L. Hess Indiana University Purdue University, Indianapolis Orcid 16x16

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Dr. Justin L Hess is the Assistant Director of the STEM Education Innovation and Research Institute and an Adjunct Assistant Professor of STEM Education Research in the Department of Technology Leadership and Communication at IUPUI. Dr. Hess’s research interests include exploring empathy’s functional role in engineering and design; designing STEM ethics curricula; and evaluating learning in the spaces of design, ethics, and sustainability. Previously, Justin worked as a Postdoctoral Researcher in the Weldon School of Biomedical Engineering at Purdue University where he created and refined ethical theory and learning modules to improve engineering students' ethical reasoning skills and dispositions. Justin received all of his degrees from Purdue University, including his PhD in Engineering Education, Master of Science in Civil Engineering, and Bachelor of Science in Civil Engineering. Justin is the Program Chair-Elect of the American Society for Engineering Education's Liberal Education/Engineering & Society Division and the vice chair of the American Society of Civil Engineers' Committee on Sustainability subcommittee on Formal Engineering Education.

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Innovation is a complex construct. It spans a variety of processes and tasks, project and product outcomes, personal characteristics and behaviors, and environments/contexts. As such, supporting the innovation-related development of engineering students is a complex task. Educators must identify key content among the varied and complex processes, outcomes, personal characteristics, and contexts of innovation and develop pedagogy that appropriately captures the nuance and challenge of these elements for engineering students. This is further complicated by recent work that reports either (a) limitations in student expertise related to innovation or (b) substantive variation in the experiences and understandings students connect to innovation. The purpose of this study is to unpack the elements engineering students attribute to their understanding of innovation and provide a typology for educators exploring what students might be prepared to learn about innovation and what they might plan to teach. More specifically, we ask:

1. What distinct aspects of innovation do engineering students report learning about innovation during substantial innovation project experiences? 2. How do these aspects of innovation map to a typology of innovation understanding among engineering students?

We investigated these research questions through content analysis of critical incidents extracted from student interview data. A sample of 31 engineering students, recruited to ensure variation in innovation project/learning experiences, year in school, academic major, and gender, participated in semi-structured interviews focused on their innovation project experiences, conceptions of innovation, and preferred innovation processes. In a previous study, we extracted 256 critical incidents that describe contexts and/or events that led to substantive changes, refinements, and/or crystallizations in the ways they understood innovation. This study represents a content analysis of the critical incidents, with a focus on the learning represented by the changes, refinements, and/or crystallizations described with the critical incidents. The inductive and iterative content analysis process focused on (a) identifying the distinct aspects of innovation learned (which may include but would not be limited to process, individual characteristics, personal motivations, etc.) and (b) sorting similar aspects into categories within a typology.

Preliminary results suggest that (1) categories connect to extant innovation aspects including processes, innovative outcomes, personal skills and knowledge, and team/project environments, but also span personal motivations and identification as innovators and (2) unique critical incidents often represent learning in more than one category. The full paper will report the identified categories and the aspects that comprise them, explore connections to expert understandings of innovation (i.e., what aspects might be missing from student understanding), and provide recommendations for identifying and structuring content for innovation-related learning activities, courses, and curricula.

Fila, N. D., & Hess, J. L. (2019, June), What Do Students Learn about Innovation? Paper presented at 2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Tampa, Florida. 10.18260/1-2--33552

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