In a Design for the Environment upper-level undergraduate engineering course, the design thinking process for creative problem solving as well as a host of in-class, active-learning design sessions were implemented, with the objective of enhancing the creativity of design solutions to real-world sustainability challenges. The literature indicates the need for enhanced engineering curricula that fosters students’ creative skills, since development of this skillset, and divergent thinking skills in particular, are often missing from engineering courses. The instructor implemented this approach during the fall 2017 after attending Stanford’s d.school Teaching and Learning Studio, a workshop that engages higher education instructors in the design thinking process and supports them in developing associated active learning exercises. Design thinking is a five-stage process that guides students in empathizing with the user’s needs, defining the problem, brainstorming solutions, creating simple solution prototypes, and testing the prototypes, iteratively ideating, prototyping, and testing to reach the best solution. This paper describes the development of the course enhancements to infuse design thinking throughout, including new in-class design activities. This paper also describes the associated assessment plan for evaluating students’ creativity and execution of the design thinking process, perceptions of the active learning and their own creativity, practice of sustainability in their design solutions, oral presentation skills, and other developmental outcomes related to their engineering careers. Some initial results are presented, including the very preliminary result that the use of design thinking may be associated with increased performance on the semester-long design solutions, including a boost in novelty.
The course enhancements included new group, in-class design exercises related to the sustainability concepts of toxicity and risk, life cycle assessment, systems thinking, and design for disassembly, which were added to modules on biomimicry and design for the developing world from the previous year. The instructor promoted the use of various maker spaces within the engineering school for prototyping of solutions. The design sessions were preceded by primers on the content areas, which were also conducted using active-learning techniques such as think-pair-share. The assessment analyst utilized the COPUS observation protocol to observe the classroom and quantify the degree of active learning and other interactive practices.
The assessment plan consists of a host of methods, including 1) pre, midterm, and post-course surveys, 2) an end-of-term focus group, 3) a project presentation with a panel of judges, and 4) midterm and end-of-term student written reflections on their application of the design thinking process. The post-course survey included questions from the StRIP (Student Response to Instructional Practices) survey, a new rigorously-developed survey for measuring students’ perspectives on and responses to active learning. Rubrics and measurement matrices from the literature were adapted to guide assessment of the students’ presentations and design solutions, including the Oral Communications VALUE rubric, Watson et al.’s sustainable design rubric, Nagel et al.’s design process rubric, and the creativity-measurement rubrics and matrices of Genco et al. and Moss.
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