Comparisons of Design Thinking for Engineering Education
Coleman, Emma Elizabeth
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Design thinking ability is vital for engineers who are tasked with solving society's toughest sustainable development challenges. Prior research identified that the percentage of design thinkers among freshmen engineering students is greater than the percentage among the general population. However, engineering education's lack of attention to fostering creative ability may cause the design thinking ability of senior engineering students to suffer. The research addressed in this thesis compares the design thinking ability of engineering students across age groups, and compares design thinking ability between the design disciplines of engineering and architecture. To draw design thinking comparisons between these groups, a survey with a nine item design thinking instrument was distributed nationally to freshmen engineering students (n= 2,158), senior engineering students (n= 1,893), and senior architecture students (n= 336). The survey instrument was validated by conducting confirmatory factor analysis on the senior engineering and senior architecture samples' data. The Analysis of Variance (ANOVA) test was utilized to statistically compare scores across sample groups. Both the freshmen engineering students (2.80) and senior architecture students (3.30) scored significantly higher on the design thinking scale than senior engineering students (2.59). These results have important implications for engineering educators as engineering education may contribute to a decrease in design thinking among senior engineering students. A lower design thinking score among seniors was consistent across all engineering sub-disciplines and should be of concern to engineering educators, since design thinking skills are critical for the development of engineering solutions to grand societal challenges.
General Audience Abstract
Design thinking is a way of thinking about the design process which places the user at the center of the design. Thinking about design in this way is a vital ability for engineers and other design professionals to develop because it enables them to solve “wicked” problems like sustainable development challenges. Wicked problems are those which are difficult to solve due to the number of conflicting components involved. Prior research has found that design thinkers are more prevalent among engineering students in their first year of study than among students in other majors. However, engineering education does not attribute much attention to the development of creative ability which could cause the design thinking ability of engineering students in their final year of study to be worse than the ability of those in their first year, as well as worse than the ability of students who study other design disciplines like architecture. This study compared the design thinking abilities of engineering students in their final year of study to engineering students in their first year and to architecture students in their final year. The goal of making these comparisons was to explore if engineering education helps or hinders the development of design thinking. A survey with nine questions related to design thinking was distributed nationwide. The data from the survey was collected and statistically analyzed. The results showed that the design thinking ability of engineering students in their final year was significantly lower than the ability of first year engineering students and significantly lower than the ability of final year architecture students. A decrease in design thinking ability between freshmen and senior year must be addressed by engineering educators. The National Academy of Engineers and industry leaders are calling for the development of engineers who are design thinkers, and the results of this paper suggest that some changes may need to occur within the engineering education curriculum to accommodate this need.
- Masters Theses