Comparisons of Design Thinking for Engineering Education

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Virginia Tech


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.



design thinking, design education, cross-sectional study, national sample