Title page for ETD etd-02182010-161327

Type of Document Dissertation
Author Mullin, Jennifer Susan
Author's Email Address jsmullin@vt.edu
URN etd-02182010-161327
Title Investigations of Student and Team Creativity on an Introductory Engineering Design Project
Degree PhD
Department Engineering Education
Advisory Committee
Advisor Name Title
Lohani, Vinod K. Committee Chair
Goff, Richard M. Committee Member
Griffin, Odis Hayden Jr. Committee Member
Wildman, Terry M. Committee Member
  • creativity
  • engineering design curriculum
  • sustainability
  • introductory engineering course
Date of Defense 2010-02-04
Availability unrestricted
Engineering is widely accepted as a creative discipline. However, research focused on assessment of student creativity in engineering studies is lacking. Creativity by definition encompasses both novelty and value and has been approached through investigations of person, product, process and environment. Contemporary socio-cultural theories of creativity recognize the subjective nature of creativity in terms of a person, domain, and field. Domain specific viewpoints recognize the necessity of specialized skills and knowledge beyond the scope of general creativity to attain advanced levels of creative achievement within a given domain. Given the breadth of these theoretical perspectives, the overarching goal of this research was to initiate a foundational understanding of student creativity through a sustainable energy themed engineering design project developed specifically for an introductory engineering course at Virginia Tech.

This embedded mixed-methods study approached creativity through assessment as well as significance of correlations between students’ creative thinking abilities, their creative performance and their perceptions of the design experience in terms of known creativity factors on the 8-week long open-ended engineering design project. The study is comprised of two research themes; the investigation begins in theme one with a focus on individual creativity leading to investigation of team creativity in theme two with data collected over two successive semesters (i.e., spring ’07 and fall ’07). Creativity assessment measures included a test of creative thinking abilities, the Abbreviated Torrance Test for Adults (ATTA) as well as application of the Consensual Assessment Technique (CAT), a widely used creativity measurement technique, with graduate student judges assessing creativity of student’s brainstorming ideas and final designs. Student surveys were administered for each theme to assess students’ perceptions of the design project.

Results reveal a significant correlation (p < 0.05) between students’ ATTA scores and perceptions of the project as open-ended and interesting. Additional factors significantly correlated (p < 0.05) with students’ perceptions of the design experience as creative included finding the project meaningful, interesting, exciting, enjoyable and surprising. Results of inter-rater reliability analysis followed by a two-way ANOVA illustrated difficulties in establishing consistency of judges’ assessment of technical brainstorming ideas and final designs. Theme one findings with students repeatedly discussing the importance of their team in the creative process on the design project were further substantiated in theme two, bringing fresh insights concerning the role of collaboration in student creativity in the introductory engineering course.

Implications for future research begin with the necessity for establishing reliable judging criteria and training as well as determining appropriate judges used in the assessment of students’ creative performance on the design project. This research provides an essential starting point for researchers interested in developing engineering design curriculum to foster creativity.

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