Integrating Systematic Creativity into the Engineering Curriculum

Project: Research project

Project Details


Industrial leaders have long expressed a mounting concern about the impact of traditional engineering education on the creative potential of future engineers. A lack of creativity is problematic in a rapidly changing technology-oriented world where generating new ideas is essential to survival. One of the industrial perceptions of weaknesses in new BS engineering graduates is a lack of design capability or creativity, and a lack of appreciation of considering alternatives. Further, a 1995 ASME report ranked creative thinking as 5th of 56 top desired 'best practices' for new BS-level engineers as seen by industry and academe. In the past few years, universities have responded to this challenge by adding more design content and introducing more open-ended design problems into the engineering curriculum. The most common approach to idea generation or creativity, however, has been the use of brainstorming that calls upon the designer to look inward for inspiration on creative solutions to the problem at hand. This can be a daunting task, which may or may not be fruitful. Systematic creativity methods such as the theory of inventive principles (TRIZ), guide the concept generation process using solution patterns derived from problems similar to the one being solved. These methods are typically introduced in senior or graduate elective courses, if at all. An EMD proof-of-concept grant from NSF would allow the faculty of the Engineering Design Program working with faculty in the Electrical, Industrial and Mechanical Engineering Departments at Penn State to develop materials that would facilitate teaching systematic creativity methods in four core undergraduate design courses: the first-year Introduction to Engineering Design course and the capstone design courses in the three participating departments. Specifically, we propose (1) to develop systematic creativity modules and materials, based on the Theory of Inventive Principles (TRIZ), for the first-year introductory course and the three capstone courses, (2) to promote amongst the faculty an awareness and understanding of the TRIZ method, (3) to develop assessment and research strategies that would allow Penn State to contribute to the research knowledge on the teaching and learning of creativity using systematic creativity methods. It is expected that the outcome of this work will result in materials widely applicable by other engineering departments and institutions looking to address the national need to increase the creative potential of future engineers.

Methods will be developed to address two pedagogical issues currently lacking solutions: (1) effective models and materials for introducing systematic creativity in core engineering courses; (2) a comprehensive research plan to study the effects of the introduction of systematic creativity methods on the creative potential of engineering graduates. Key questions to be answered include: Can the introduction of systematic creativity result in a person learning to be more creative? To what extent does systematic creativity correlate with different learning styles or personality traits, both of which have been shown to contribute to a person's creative potential. What are the best instruments to measure the effects of the intervention on a person's creative potential? What effect would the intervention have on retention rates?

The materials developed will have impacts beyond the four targeted undergraduate courses. An interactive on-line tool, based on one of the key TRIZ concepts, technical contradictions, is being developed as part of the proposal. The tool will be publicly available and populated with a large number of real-world examples, categorized by discipline. This will go far beyond what is currently available and provide a valuable resource to other institutions and companies wishing to adopt the TRIZ approach. In addition, the developed materials incorporate the language and analysis models common in engineering design (TRIZ has a large number of unique analysis models) thereby removing one of the barriers to wider adoption of the approach. The materials will also be suitable for use in short courses in industry. Finally, the outcomes of the research strategies and assessments will advance discovery and understanding of the teaching of creativity and the learning of creativity using systematic methods such as TRIZ.

Effective start/end date8/1/057/31/07


  • National Science Foundation: $75,000.00


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