Unit 1: Creativity and its Importance in Engineering

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Pre-Requisites

Before starting this unit, please review the pre-requisites below. These are needed to navigate and understand the material in this mini-course.

  • You should have basic knowledge on computer usage, file modifying, and Microsoft Word editing. As an online course, computer knowledge will be needed to navigate this mini-course.
  • You should have a background in and/or have a basic understanding of engineering. This is needed to ensure that you fully understand engineering terminology and topics discussed in this mini-course.
  • You must be actively seeking to learn more about this education topic. Actively pursuing creative Engineering (C. Eng.) will greatly enhance your engagement and improve your overall education from this mini-course.

Learning Objectives

By the end of this unit, you should have an understanding and explain why creativity is needed in engineering

  • You should be able to describe creative engineering
  • You will learn why it is not commonly taught in universities/schools
  • You should be able to identify areas of your engineering classroom where creativity can be improved
  • You will read articles focused on the topic of creative engineering
  • You will begin a course-long activity that will guide you though designing a creative engineering curriculum

Articles & Videos for this Unit

File:Teaching Creativity in Engineering.pdf

File:Barriers to Creativity in Engineering Education.pdf

File:The Power of Creative Constraints.mp4

Creative Engineering

Why is creativity needed in engineering?

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Engineers are constantly designing new ideas and concepts to overcome problems. No two problems or issues are the same and for this reason, creativity is highly sought after in the engineering field. Liu describes the need for creativity in engineering very well:

"The profession of engineering demands that engineers recognize, validate, and solve problems on their own and through team work. More importantly, they should demonstrate original and critical thinking, and creativeness and innovativeness in their methodologies. In short, engineers need a creative mind to meet the advancing goal of engineering profession - to design new products or systems and improve existing ones for the benefit of humankind" (Liu, 2004, p. 801).

Please read this article: File:Teaching Creativity in Engineering.pdf. It will help you better understand creativity and is benefit in engineering.

In this constantly advancing world, engineers need to constantly improve and innovate ideas in order to continue the advancement. Creativity is something that can greatly enhance an engineers ability to develop new ideas and improve old ones. Many employers are looking for engineers with creative minds to enhance their engineering department. However, many schools and colleges are not teaching their students with creativity in mind.

Why are engineering schools not effectively teaching creativity?

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As Kazerounian asks in his article, "If creativity is so central to engineering, why is it not an obvious part of the engineering curriculum at every university?" (Kazerounian, 2007, 761). This is a very important question. There may be several reasons for this.

Historically, there has been an emphasis on mathematical principles and design standards. Engineers are taught to strictly follow these standards and this mindset usually leaves little room for creative thinking. Many current engineering instructors were taught in this way and therefore see little reason not to instruct their students the same. Karerounian's article interviewed several engineering instructors and below is some of their responses:


  • "Engineering is serious business, engineers must be accurate not creative."
  • "Creativity leads to chaos and disorder in the school and later design uncertainties and therefore legal liabilities in practice."
  • "Creative behavior contradicts or violates academic standards at school and national engineering standards in practice, standards that are results of tens of years of experience."
  • "Musicians, artists, and poets do not build automobiles, bridges, or cell phones."
  • "Anyone can produce a draft design. Engineers must only use fundamentally sound equations and established procedures and precedents to design."
  • "Engineers cannot take risks. The example of building bridges, making mistakes, and the loss of lives come up often."

(Kazerounian, 2007, p. 762)

These engineers are not wrong to answer the way they did. I agree that accuracy is critical in the world of engineering. Like the last professor said, if mistakes are made on something as big as a bridge, loss of lives are at stake. These risks are something that obviously needs to be avoided. This is the reason engineering standards exist. However, there is something that all these professors are missing. How can engineers creatively work within these needed standards and constraints? While many may see these standards and constraints as hindrance to creativity, it is better to think about it as the constraints guiding creativity. For example, how can I design a bridge that will hold 4,000,000 tons within these engineering standards, or cost, or size limit? This video goes on to explain this very well!

Without the creativity to design new concepts, engineering, and in turn society, will not advance. Unfortunately, the emphasis on non-creative learning prevents students from realizing their creative potential.

Kazerounian's article dives deeper into why creativity is lacking in schools and colleges. It continues on to talk about ten maxims that can help improve the fostering of creativity in engineering education:

  • Keep an Open Mind
  • Ambiguity is Good
  • Iterative Process that Includes Idea Incubation
  • Reward for Creativity
  • Lead by Example
  • Learning to Fail
  • Encouraging Risk
  • Search for Multiple Answers
  • Internal Motivation
  • Ownership of Learning

Please read more about these ten maxims in the article File:Barriers to Creativity in Engineering Education.pdf. This knowledge will be needed for the following part of this unit.

  • I do recommend that you fully read both of the articles in this unit as they will help you better understand creative engineering and how to improve it in your classroom.

Identifying Creativity in your Classroom

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Now that you have learned about creative engineering (why engineering schools have avoided creativity, and the ten maxims to help foster creativity), you will use your new knowledge in your classroom. You will observe your class and identify areas where creativity is prospering and areas lacking in creativity. Below there are a series of questions to help you know what to observe and write about.

  • For this activity, while it can be done solo, pairing with a peer educator or assistant instructor is highly recommended. This will help diversify your observations of your class.

Questions:

  • Identify areas where creativity is promoted and prospers in your class.
  • Identify areas where student creativity is lacking.
  • Think about what you desire your students to achieve in terms of creativity and critical thinking.
  • From what you learned in this unit, what would help improve your students' creativity in the classroom?
  • Would any of the ten maxims mentioned in Kazerounian's article help improve creativity?
  • Discuss with your partner, if you have one, what you individually identified and why.
  • Write down any other information that you find relevant or important to your students' creativity.

After completing this short written assignment, review what you wrote. This assignment is important as it will be the start of designing a creative engineering curriculum through Instructional Design. This is the beginning, identifying your students needs. You will be tackling the issues you identified in the following units. In the next unit, you will be looking at different pedagogical methods and you will be identifying what would be most effective for your class.

Unit Review

  • Creative engineering is a vital part of problem solving in this ever-changing modern world.
  • Creative engineering is important to developing new designs and many employers desire creative individuals.
  • Creative engineering is not commonly taught in schools or colleges and many professors think it is unnecessary.
  • Creative engineering does not mean standards are not to be followed, these standards are important and help prevent engineering disasters. Instead it means developing new creative ideas within these regulations.
  • Kazerounian's ten maxims that can foster student creativity in an engineering classroom.
  • You determined areas where creativity is in need for improvement in your classroom and determined which maxims would be most beneficial to your students.

Links

After completing Unit 1, continue on to Unit 2: Pedagogical Techniques to Design a Creative Engineering Classroom

Click here to return to the mini-course main page.