Investigating the suitability of computerised creativity training activities for teaching creativity and problem-solving skills in engineering education

Valentine, A 2018, Investigating the suitability of computerised creativity training activities for teaching creativity and problem-solving skills in engineering education, Doctor of Philosophy (PhD), Engineering, RMIT University.


Document type: Thesis
Collection: Theses

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Title Investigating the suitability of computerised creativity training activities for teaching creativity and problem-solving skills in engineering education
Author(s) Valentine, A
Year 2018
Abstract Creativity and problem-solving are key skills which engineering graduates are expected to possess. While some studies report completing a four-year engineering program has a positive influence on creativity and problem-solving skills, others highlight that creativity skills may actually decrease over this time. Several studies report that creativity is given insufficient space within engineering curriculum, highlighting a contributing factor to this issue. Creativity is a complex process involving numerous phases. The scope of this thesis is focused on the development of idea generation skills, and overcoming the issue of fixation. This thesis will primarily focus on the development of creativity skills through training in the use of creativity heuristics. Due to scope limitations, the practicality or viability of ideas will not be evaluated.

The purpose of this study was to:
-Quantify the coverage of creativity material within engineering curricula in Australia and New Zealand.
-Establish whether creativity training learning activities traditionally completed using pen-and-paper in a classroom environment can be successfully migrated to an online environment, without the influence of negative mode-effects on student learning outcomes.
-Establish whether online creativity training activities are a viable way for teaching engineering students creativity and problem-solving skills.

The following research objectives were investigated:
-Establish the extent that creativity-related topics are explicitly taught within engineering curricula in Australia and New Zealand, specifically including creativity heuristics training.
-Establish whether there is a mode-effect in the context of creativity heuristics training, based upon ideation performance and self-efficacy.
-Establish whether there is any measurable long-term benefit for students to spend time engaged in tasks that expose them to the use of creativity heuristics, and whether there is a long-term mode-effect on ideation performance.
-Establish from an educator`s point of view whether creativity heuristics training is viable, and when and how it should be introduced to engineering curricula.
-Establish whether students prefer to complete creativity heuristics training using one mode or the other (computer or pen-and-paper).
This study utilised a mixed methods approach using both quantitative and qualitative methods in different stages of the study:
-The first phase was a mixed methods research design. 1109 publicly accessible course outlines from forty-nine Australian and New Zealand electrical engineering programs hosted by thirty-two different institutions, were analysed to collect data and carry out evaluations.

The second phase included three quasi-experiments, using a primarily quantitative research design. The first experiment involved seventy first year students, one hundred and fifty-three third year students and thirty-eight postgraduate students. The second experiment involved ninety third year students. The third experiment involved forty-eight first year students.
The key findings of the study are:
-Quantification of the coverage of creativity-related material in engineering curricula on a national level as opposed to being limited to one or two tertiary institutions.
-There is no observable mode-effect in the context of creativity training where students learn to apply creativity heuristics, based upon either ideation performance or self-efficacy.
-Engaging engineering students in a standalone idea generation activity of less than an hour duration has measurable performance benefits, and there was no observable difference in longitudinal ideation performance based on mode used in the creativity training.
-Students show positive interest towards standalone learning activities designed to enhance their creativity and idea generation skills. As an overall cohort, students show slight preference for completing such activities using computer over pen-and-paper.
-First year students may be more willing or able to make use of creativity heuristics training. Students in higher year levels may be more resistant to learning such topics.

The key findings have implications for practice. When designing engineering curricula, the following factors should be taken into account regarding the development of creativity and problem-solving skills:
-Engineers Australia and Engineering New Zealand may adapt their criteria for assessing whether engineering programs foster creativity skills or not. Engineering programs should require students to explicitly learn about creative theory and creativity techniques, as opposed to implicitly only through the completion of engineering design projects.
-It is recommended courses focused on developing creativity and problem-solving skills are introduced to first year of study. Additionally, creativity material should be increased throughout the engineering program.
-Developing online creativity training activities and making them widely available may be one way which the creativity and problem-solving skills of engineering students may be effectively enhanced throughout an engineering degree. Especially where an institution otherwise has a lack of creativity-related material throughout their engineering curricula.
-Making creativity training available in students` first year of study is ideal as students may be more willing to engage with the activity, and it provides more time throughout their degree when they can practice and make use of the training.

The research findings of the study contribute to the existing literature in the following ways:
-Much more comprehensive understanding of the extent of coverage of creativity-related material within Australian and New Zealand engineering education.
-Better understanding of the influence that creativity heuristics training is has on students` longitudinal idea generation performance.
-Substantial addition to the available literature in regards to mode-effect in the context of creativity training activities, both in terms of initial and longitudinal effects.
-Contribution to the understanding of mode-preference within different contexts. Within creativity heuristics training, students show preference for using computers.
-Identification that students show positive attitudes specifically towards creativity heuristics training activities, as opposed to creativity in general or courses focused on creativity.

Results of this study provide useful information for educators relevant to teaching creativity and problem-solving skills within engineering education. Findings in this thesis can lead to the increased adoption of creativity material within engineering curricula, and the development of online applications which can engage engineering students in building their creativity and problem-solving skills. Future work may conduct longitudinal research to establish whether engaging students in creativity heuristics training regularly throughout their program of study, can lead to observable benefits to their creativity skills upon graduation. Future research may expand the types of creativity training considered, and broaden the focus to include aspects of creativity training other than heuristics.
Degree Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Institution RMIT University
School, Department or Centre Engineering
Subjects Electrical and Electronic Engineering not elsewhere classified
Higher Education
Computer Software not elsewhere classified
Keyword(s) engineering education
creativity
mode-effect
innovation
higher education
e-learning
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Created: Wed, 06 Feb 2019, 10:31:47 EST by Keely Chapman
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