Academic journal article Journal of STEM Education : Innovations and Research

From Brainstorming to C-Sketch to Principles of Historical Innovators: Ideation Techniques to Enhance Student Creativity

Academic journal article Journal of STEM Education : Innovations and Research

From Brainstorming to C-Sketch to Principles of Historical Innovators: Ideation Techniques to Enhance Student Creativity

Article excerpt


The heart and soul of engineering is innovation and our ability to improve the human condition through design. To enrich engineering education, it is critical that we advance our teaching in innovation and design processes. This research focuses on the ideation component of innovation through the investigation of a suite of concept generation techniques. These techniques have been developed for engineering education across disciplines and at all levels of curriculum. In this paper, we explore this suite of techniques from a method known as C-Sketch to a new method referred to as "principles of historical innovators." Based on the deployment of the techniques, at the freshman- and senior-levels of undergraduate education, we execute a study to understand if the suite of techniques enables students to generate a large quantity of diverse concepts and if the suite enhances the creativity of the students. Our approach is to pre-survey students regarding a self-assessment of their creativity using Gough's list of creativity descriptors. A control and experimental group of student design teams across disciplines and class levels are then asked to develop as many concepts as possible for their course design projects. The control group only executes a single and well-known method from the suite of concept generation techniques, whereas the experimental group employs the entire suite of techniques. The total number of concepts developed by the teams is evaluated, documenting the number of concepts per ideation technique. The teams are also asked to complete a post-creativity survey. The assessment results from this study show a clear and statistically valid enhancement of the students' creativity, a higher quantity of concepts generated from the suite of techniques, and appreciation of atypical techniques such the "principles of historical innovators."

Key Words: design, active learning, creativity, concept generation, diversity

1. Motivation and Research Objectives

Innovation and creativity in design are key outcomes for engineering students in our increasingly flat and connected world. The activity of concept generation (CG), or more generally ideation, presents tremendous and unique opportunities for enhancing creativity in students. A variety of techniques specifically to enrich concept generation or ideation inform our research in the context of design processes.

Numerous versions of the "design process" have been proposed(Ullman, 1997; Ulrich & Eppinger, 2000; Otto & Wood, 2001; Dym, 2000). Two examples are captured in Figures 1 and 2. Figure 1 shows the process as depicted by Ullman (1997) and Figure 2 provides a similar description from Ulrich and Eppinger (2000). In both these cases, and in the majority of other portrayals of the design process, one of the key steps in the overall process is identified as "concept generation." As shown in Figure 3 from Otto & Wood (2001) , the CG step itself can be separated into a set of sub-processes. Note the dual paths depicted in the figure, which divide the process into two categories, basic and advanced. Similarly, Shah (1998) uses two categories referred to as intuitive and directed. The upper path in the Fig. 4 corresponds to the intuitive type CG method and the lower path to directed or discursive-bias methods. The goal of the intuitive methods is to create an environment that enhances creativity for the designer allowing for maximum opportunity to produce novel, and ultimately innovative, solutions. Classic examples in the intuitive category include brainstorming, extended brainstorming with mind-mapping and morphological analysis. The goal of the directed methods is to use knowledge or process steps outside the typical background of the designer to develop concepts. Technical information combined with fundamental physical laws and design principles play a key role in this directed method set of CG techniques.

Based on influential ideation techniques, as well as original work we have conducted in this area, we have developed a suite of CG techniques to assist in the design projects (Jensen, Weaver, Wood, Linsey, & Wood, 2009). …

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