Innovative Design within the Context of Virtual Internships: How Can it Be Defined and How is it Related to the Student Design Process?
Definitions of “innovative design” vary among authors and fields of study. This makes it difficult to establish how to determine innovative designs in new design environments, such as in a virtual internship environment. Nephrotex is a virtual internship which encourages players, who assume the role of virtual interns within the game, to fully explore a constrained design space with the goal of producing an optimized dialysis membrane. As a useful starting point for our definition of “innovative design” within this design environment, we referenced the work of Baregheh et al. (2009) and formed the following definition: “A process that not only leads to unique physical or technical product attributes but also adds value beyond existing designs on the market.” We defined uniqueness based on the design occurring infrequently amongst the final products of student design teams. Quality was assessed based on the work of Arastoopour and colleagues (2014), taking technical and economic performance into consideration to determine how well the design was able to meet the Nephrotex internal consultant requirements for the design.
Using this definition, we sought to answer the following research question: How does the design process differ for a team that generates an innovative vs. non-innovative design within a virtual internship? Specifically, do innovative teams report more frequently that they spend the most time on certain design activities (grouped using Dym’s design framework) versus non-innovative teams? Further, do innovative teams make their final design justifications on the basis of different factors than non-innovative teams do?
This research was conducted with sophomore chemical engineering students in the spring 2014 and 2015 semesters. A total of 50 teams of approximately 4-5 students each were studied. Student design processes were evaluated based on innovativeness as well as weekly journal entries where students reported the three activities they spent the most time on.
Our results showed no significant differences between innovative and non-innovative teams in terms of their reports of the Dym’s-based activities that they spent the most time on, although our sample size was small. The Management category was associated with the largest effect size (d=0.68), with innovative teams reporting more frequently than non-innovative teams that they spent the most time on design activities that were Management-related. In terms of attributes that contributed to innovative products, teams with higher innovation scores tended to prioritize cost and membrane efficiency (as determined by maximum allowable flux) over patient comfort (measured by blood cell reactivity) and projected market sales. Our results are intended to provide a map for design processes that may ultimately lead to more innovative designs within a virtual internship environment.
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