387408 Investigating Creativity in an Open-Ended Project

Tuesday, November 18, 2014: 10:10 AM
M105 (Marriott Marquis Atlanta)
Laura Hirshfield, Erick Nefcy and Milo D. Koretsky, Chemical, Biological and Environmental Engineering, Oregon State University, Corvallis, OR

Creativity, the ability to develop something innovative and useful from pre-existing knowledge and experience (Liu & Schonwetter, 2004), is a significant component of engineering; engineers must be creative in order to develop original processes and products and solve problems in novel ways. However, a prominent aspect of a ChE curriculum is to teach students common problem-solving techniques or algorithms to reach a solution; as a result, students may lose interest in creativity and instead focus on following a demonstrated path and getting the “right” answer. Open-ended problems encourage creativity since they have multiple viable solutions and allow students to create their own solution path. Through examining student work products from an open-ended project, we seek to develop an evidence-based understanding of how creativity is embodied. Specifically, we investigate three aspects of creativity in engineering: fluency, or the number of ideas; flexibility, the variety of ideas; and originality, the novelty of the idea.

We consider the following research questions: how do these aspects of creativity compare in student teams working on an open-ended virtual laboratory project versus more constrained physical laboratory projects? How do these aspects compare for student teams and experts, i.e., to what extent does domain expertise affect creativity? Does creativity relate to project performance (the team’s final grade on the project) and if so, how?

The open-ended project, the Industrially-Situated Virtual Laboratory Project, was used as one of three laboratory projects in the senior laboratory course at Oregon State University; during the term, students also completed two physical laboratory projects, including a heat exchange experiment and an ion exchange experiment. As a part of each project, student teams created several work products, including memos, reports, and laboratory notebooks, which provide evidence of the team’s solution path and document the elements that may contribute to the team’s understanding and progress. These elements are identified, arranged in chronological order, and presented in a graphical form called a Model Map. For the student teams, Model Maps have been generated for all three laboratory projects while the expert teams only completed the virtual laboratory project. The Model Maps provide a platform for analyzing the three previously mentioned aspects of creativity: fluency (the number of models on a team’s model map), flexibility (the different types of models developed), and originality (the uniqueness of a model compared to the other teams). By looking at a subset of these Model Maps, we found that students tend to be more fluent and flexible in the open-ended virtual laboratory project than in the physical laboratory projects, utilizing a wider range of elements in their solution path. Surprisingly, the experts scored lower on these measures of creativity. We speculate that this result is due to the richer domain knowledge of the experts, but it warrants further study.

Liu, Z., & Schonwetter, D. (2004). Teaching creativity in engineering. International Journal of Engineering Education, 20(5).

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