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Creativity Supports Engineering Thinking Daniel M.

Ferguson Development Theories and Engineering Thinking Spring 2011 Course number ENE 69500-01

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Abstract

Approaching problem solving creatively is a societal goal handed to every engineer. (National Academy of Engineering, 2004) Creative problem solving requires that an engineer master not only scientific knowledge but also develop their cognitive or thinking skills to the level where they can deal not only with structured problems but with the ill-structured, subjective and relative conditions that mark real world problems and require creative solutions. (Irish, 1999b; D. Jonassen, 2006) Domain changing creative problem solving is the holy grail of engineering and often requires many long years of knowledge acquisition, interaction with experienced, diverse and knowledgeable engineers working in the same domain and personal courage and curiosity. (Crawley, 2007) Five suggestions drawn from creativity research are made for supporting creativity in engineering problem solving. (Cszikszentmihalyi, 1996; Michael Kirton, 1976; National Academy of Engineering, 2005)

Introduction

Engineering is the profession that conceives, designs, implements and operates products, processes and systems that use natural resources and technologies for the benefit of society. (Crawley, 2007) Given the limitations and scarcity of natural resources faced by all communities on our planet the need to conserve natural resources and find ways to use our natural resources more effectively and sustainably in any product, process, or system is an overriding and continuous societal goal given to all engineers. (National Academy of Engineering, 2004)

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Engineers, who think creatively and solve the problems of our societies by translating scientific discoveries into novel and appropriate solutions to societal problems, are a priceless societal resource. (National Academy of Engineering, 2005) Developing creative problem solving engineers is the societal goal assigned to engineering education.

Engineering thinking is the cognitive or thinking process by which an engineer applies scientific principles and societal constraints to the optimal conversion of available natural resources into a problem solution that benefits society in the communities where they live and work. (Crawley, 2007) Problem solving as a process involves several data gathering, analysis, communication and organization steps and this problem solving process is defined as: problem definition, problem analysis, solution generation, solution evaluation, solution selection, implementation and evaluation. (Cherry, 2011; Crawley, 2007)

In each stage of the problem solving process gathering information, working in a team, considering all reasonable alternatives and coming up with new or novel solutions to the problem are crucial strategies employed by engineers to arrive at the best solution given the constraints that they face. (Crawley, 2007) Improving on an existing problem solution (e.g. finding a lower cost material that performs as well as the existing material in use) is one of the important considerations faced by engineers who are working on finding the solution to a problem. Finding novel solutions to aspects of a problem is when creativity supports engineering thinking. Bernard. F. Gordon, Founder of Analogic Corporation, in 1984 called an engineer's " spirit of creativity and courage, [the skill and personality trait] that leads to creativity and innovation", an

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essential characteristic of a "real engineer." (Crawley, 2007) Recognition for being creative can also be external to an engineer's immediate community (e.g. company) and actions. When an engineer's novel ideas are accepted and used by the larger society outside their immediate community (e.g., a patent is granted, a company is created that uses the novel idea), the novel ideas generated by an engineer are judged to be domain-changing creative. (Csikszentmihalyi, 1996; Drucker, 1986; Hargadon, 2003)

Engineering is Problem Solving

In his report on engineering education written in 1918 but covering the development of engineering over the previous 30-50 years, Charles Mann said "the ultimate aim of engineering is more intelligent production." (Mann, 1918) Mann's definition of the role of engineering in society is congruent with Crawleys modern definition of engineering as: the use of new or existing technology incorporated in products, processes or systems to meet the changing needs of society. (Crawley, 2007, pp. 2-3)

A different way to define engineering is described by David Noble, where he views the profession of engineering standing between science and applying science to the practical problems of society. (Noble, 1978) B.E. Seely sees engineering as practical problem solving. (Seely, 1999) Seely explains how societal forces, such as world wars, influence the definition of what engineers should know and do. In particular he points out that the debate can tilt toward both the practical engineer and the theoretical engineer under societal pressures. When society

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needs to increase the production of goods and services to fight a war more engineers and more production are both needed. Describing the experiences of Eric Walker (Dean of Engineering at Penn State in 1950) during and after WWII, Seely writes "Walker's wartime experiences convinced him that engineers need to know about and be able to apply the newest scientific knowledge and understandings." (Seely, 1999, p. 290) Seely adds that a good engineer must strike a balance between knowing and doing." (Seely, 1999, p. 292)

In 1984 Bernard F Gordon, also stated that a real engineer is one who has attained and continuously enhances technical, communications, and human relations knowledge, skills and attitudes, and who contributes effectively to society by theorizing, conceiving, developing, and producing reliable structures and machines of practical and economic value." (Crawley, 2007, pp. 10-11). Koen describes an engineer "as a problem solver who executes a strategy for causing the best change in a poorly understood situation within the available resources."(Koen, 2003) Koen adds that "change and resources are easy to understand but society does not always understand that [an] engineer solves problems in an optimal way given the constraints faced by the engineer. Therefore, the engineers' solutions are not always perceived as best by everyone impacted by the engineers implemented solution." (Koen, 2003)

Problem solving is therefore at the core of an engineers role and responsibility in society and the problems engineers are asked to solve range from highly structured to totally lacking structure , that is, ill-defined or poorly understood. (D. H. Jonassen, 2000) Jonassen reviewed eleven different types of problems that engineers may be asked to solve, all requiring a process of generating and weighing alternatives and coming up with the best possible solution. (D. H.

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Jonassen, 2000) Solving problems by engineers requires a broad set of thinking and communication skills, knowledge across domains, consideration of societal constraints and implementation of a solution that is perceived as best by the engineer, but does not satisfy all of societys stakeholders impacted by the problem solution. (Koen, 2003) Engineers are expected to make improvements on existing solutions whenever possible and generating novel solutions when creatively problem solving is what B.F. Gordon hailed as an essential engineering trait, that is, creativity. (Crawley, 2007)

Engineering Thinking

A critical aspect of our ability to solve problems are our cognitive or thinking processes and use of symbolic language which we develop as children and continue to use and develop as an adult. (Ginsburg & Opper, 1988; Vygotsky, 1986) Benjamin Bloom in 1956 and William G Perry in 1970 proposed models of how we think and solve problems of increasing complexity. Bloom and Perry's models are representations of how engineers develop and use their cognitive skills and solve engineering problems. (Irish, 1999a; Krathwohl, 2002; Perry, 1970)

Blooms cognitive model proposes six increasingly subjective and less defined levels of problems to which we apply our thinking or cognitive skills to solve problems: 1. Knowledge 2. Comprehension 3. Application 4. Analysis recalls specifics, patterns, universals, abstractions. uses information to translate, summarize, extrapolate. uses abstractions (e.g. laws) in particular and concrete situations. understands relations between ideas or concepts

Daniel M Ferguson 5. Synthesis

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puts together elements into a whole, to combine elements to constitute a pattern.

6. Evaluation

makes judgments based on internal evidence, makes judgments based on external criteria(Irish, 1999a)

A revision to Blooms taxonomy by Krathwohl renames the six levels as 1. Remember, 2. Understand, 3. Apply, 4. Analyze, 5. Evaluate, and 6. Create. Krathwohl also identifies four types of knowledge to which these levels of thinking apply: Factual Knowledge, Conceptual Knowledge (understanding theories or formulas), Procedural Knowledge (knowledge of processes), and Metacognitive Knowledge (knowing how much you know or don't know). Krathwohls hypothesis is that we move through Blooms six cognitive levels with respect to each type of knowledge and this hypothesis is relevant to engineering thinking because engineers may have to use all four types of knowledge identified by Krathwohl to solve complex problems. An engineer's ability to operate with different types of knowledge is then a function of the level of thinking ability that they possess for that type of knowledge. This differentiated ability to effectively use different types of knowledge is particularly important at the crucial stages for solving complex problems, Bloom's synthesis and evaluation stages or the evaluate and create stages for Krathwohl. (Krathwohl, 2002)

Perrys scheme of intellectual development has nine stages but the stages are not cumulative as in Blooms taxonomy and each stage of thinking replaces the previous stage as in a paradigm shift in psychological development- a capacity to hold in the mind and work with conflicting areas of information and contradiction.

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A simplified version of Perrys scheme is: (Irish, 1999a; Perry, 1970) Basic Duality Position 1, A view of the world; values, actions, behaviors, in terms of duel value sets; us-them, right-wrong, authority-illegitimate, (Perry, 1970) Multiplicity Positions 2, 3, & 4 (Pre-Legitimate, Subordinate, Correlate) An individual starts to recognize pluralistic views and value sets. (Perry, 1970) Relativism Position 5 (the foundation concept for positions 6-9. All knowledge is relative, authority becomes authority and absolutes become degrees in value. (Perry, 1970) Commitment Positions 6, 7, 8, & 9 mental growth switches from trying to understand and come to terms with view and value, to trying to understand and come to terms with the implications of commitment/responsibility in a relativistic world. (Perry, 1970)

In Bloom's taxonomy of cognitive processing an engineer can operate at different cognitive levels depending on the information required, the specific problem context being considered, how much domain knowledge they possess and how much experience they have in solving the category of problem under consideration. (D. H. Jonassen, 2000) There are other researchers who categorize our mental models as relating to matter, processes or mental states and who argue that crossing categories represents another type of difficulty in cognitive processing. (Chi, Slotta, & de Leeuw, 1994) However in Perry's model there is a passage from one stage to another stage that determines how an engineer views knowledge or the problem aspects under consideration. The stage of intellectual development of an engineer influences what they believe about thinking and knowledge and therefore how they approach problem solving. (Perry, 1970) For both Bloom and Perry's mental models an engineer who is problem solving will assume:

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if at level or stage 1, that there is a discrete answer to the problem (like on a math test). if at levels 2-3 or stages 2-4, that there is an answer to the problem, and even if I don't know it, someone does (like my teacher). if at level 4 or stage 5, there are many answers to a problem and we just need to find one that works for us and satisfies all the problem objectives and constraints.(the professional engineer) if at level 5-6 or stages 6-9, there is really no simple answer to any problem, rather there is a decision to be made based on the available information and this decision can change as new information is made available. (the creative problem solving engineer). These are also the stages or levels where creative solutions emerge.(Irish, 1999a)

Research has found that engineers who are able to operate at the upper levels or stages of these thinking models are most often engineers with substantial experience, significant domain knowledge and who are able to operate in the context of a diverse team which is also solving problems in the same domain. (Irish, 1999a) Coincidentally researchers in creativity have discovered that many creative people exhibit these same cognitive attributes and domain characteristics. (Csikszentmihalyi, 1996).

There are two additional findings that researchers have obtained from studies using Blooms taxonomy and Perrys model of intellectual development as theoretical frameworks that illuminate how engineers solve or don't solve problems creatively:

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1. Engineering students enter college with problem solving skills around Blooms levels 1-2 and Perrys level 1-2 and leave college with problem solving skills around Blooms levels 3-4 and Perrys level 2-4. The problems they are generally able to solve as an engineer after a four-year engineering education program are those that are solvable using equations or resolvable by standard solutions, in other words, not likely to require higher level or higher stage thinking. (Irish, 1999a) Advancing to the higher levels of thinking as described by these models is not automatically occurring during an undergraduate engineering education. 2. To advance your thinking to Blooms levels 4-6 or Perrys levels 5-9 requires that the engineers understand and accept that real world problems are ill-structured and problem information is relative and subjective and nearly always incomplete.

From society's point of view it is not enough for an engineer to solve simple structured problems, like replacing a worn out tire with a new tire, we want the engineer to design a new type of tire that lasts longer, is safer in bad weather and doesn't ever go flat. (Michelin, 2006) We want engineers who will develop better tire solutions and who are able to think at the higher Bloom and Perry thinking levels and stages. We need engineers who can address ill-structured problems and design creative solutions to these complex real-world problems, that is, think creatively. (Crawley, 2007; National Academy of Engineering, 2005)

Daniel M Ferguson Engineering Creativity

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As humans (engineers) work to solve their problems they can and do propose solutions that are judged to be novel, sometimes solutions that are so unique they are even called brilliant ideas and occasionally, most often after many long years of hard work and supported by a network or community, they propose a solution or a change in a domain that is valued and adopted by that community or their culture. (Hargadon, 2003; Johnson, 2010) All three of these types of problem solutions as described by Csikszentmihalyi are called 'creative' by society. (Csikszentmihalyi, 1996) So creativity in problem solving as defined by Csikszentmihalyi is producing a novel idea or brilliant idea, or a domain-changing solution and this is the definition of engineering creativity.

Ferrrari citing Sternberg says: Creativity has been understood as the "ability to produce work that is both novel and appropriate" While Craft sees creativity as the ability to see possibilities that others haven't noticed, [novel] and Esquivel sees it as the critical process involved in the generation of new ideas [novel]. (Ferrari, Cachia, & Punie, 2009) Zeng et al after reviewing definitions of engineering creativity see creativity as "a cognitive process that results in an idea or solution that is novel and appropriate that people will purchase, adopt, use or appreciate [domain-changing]." (Zeng, Proctor, & Salvendy, 2011)

Researchers also suggest that: "Creativity arises where there is a happy combination of factors such as personality traits, social influences, environmental constraints and cultural values but that there is no single recipe for making it happen.(Edmonds, et al., 2005)" Sternberg

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maintains that there is not a single trait or type of creativity but perhaps many different types of creativity when he says that there are at least three different forms creativities might take: creativities with respect to processes, domains, and styles. (Sternberg, 2005, p. 371) Torrance describes human creativity attributes as fluency, flexibility, originality and elaboration and further states that an individual can be trained to be more creative, a critical point for the engineering problem solver. (1993) Csikszentmihalyi points out that some of the most creative problem solutions occur when you cross domains or work in a diverse team that is populated by team members who have very diverse domain knowledge and life and work experiences. (Csikszentmihalyi, 1996)

Csikszentmihalyi further suggests that novelty or originality are easier to generate, whereas ideas judged appropriate and adopted in a symbolic domain (domain changing) are very difficult to generate. Discovering new or creative acts or ways of thinking that change a domain almost always requires three critical and difficult inputs according to Csikszentmihalyi:

1. long arduous acquisition of knowledge about a domain of acting or thinking, 2. incremental gains in understanding of that domain acquired over long periods of time but with puzzles that remain, and 3. interaction with other experts who are gathering information about that same domain but bring their own unique and diverse insights and experiences to share with you, that is, you learn together and share experiments, thoughts, and ideas but from very different perspectives.(Csikszentmihalyi, 1996)

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In summary, engineering creativity, coming up with novel and appropriate problem solutions to ill-structured real world problems, often requires a long, arduous acquisition of knowledge. New insights in problem solutions are made incrementally and interaction with other engineers with diverse backgrounds working in the same domain stimulate creative insights. (Csikszentmihalyi, 1996)

Engineering Problem Solving and Creativity Processes

The patterns of problem solving and creative thinking processes are similar and involve the same cognitive processes. Problem solving is generally defined as a four to seven steps process (Cherry, 2011; Heller, Keith, & Anderson, 1992) and, for example, here is a prototypical six step problem solving process definition:

Problem Definition: Document the problem to solve; check that you are answering the right problem. Problem Analysis: Understand the facts of the current problem situation and why there is a problem. Generating Possible alternate solutions: Consider several possible solutions that meet the situation objectives within constraints. Analyzing alternatives: Investigate each potential solution and develop the criteria that you will use to select a solution. Record the good and bad points of each alternative and other influencing factors which are relevant to each alternative.

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Selecting the Best Solution(s): Evaluate the facts and other factors for possible solutions. Select a solution(s) based upon your criteria. Implementation: Prepare and execute the plan for the selected solution (s).(Dewey, 1933; Kimmel, 2003)

Creativity as a process on the other hand is often defined as having four or five steps: (Zeng, et al., 2011)

Problem Analysis: Execute problem finding and problem formulating which involves understanding the problem context and framing the problem in concrete and meaningful ways to facilitate idea generation. Ideation: Generate a variety of alternate solutions to the formulated problem. Evaluation: Specify a set of criteria and evaluate the generated ideas against those criteria. Implementation: Select the solution[s] and prepare and execute the plan for the selected solution[s].

Table 1 below shows descriptions of the process steps for problem solving and creativity. The descriptive words, the sequence of steps and the inputs and outcomes of the process steps are very similar. Kirton says that "creativity [the process] is a subset if not entirely synonymous with problem solving" (M. Kirton, 2003, p. 150). Given that creativity and problem solving process steps are similar we assume that the required skill sets are also similar, that is, if you can think of alternate ways to solve a problem, some of those alternatives can be novel or even brilliant and occasionally domain changing.

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Table 1.0 Comparison of process steps in engineering problem solving and engineering creativity Engineering Problem Solving Steps Problem Definition: Description of Problem Solving Step Document the problem to solve; check that you are answering the right problem. Understand the facts of the current problem situation and why there is a problem. Consider several possible solutions that meet the situation objectives within constraints. Investigate each potential solution and develop the criteria that you will use to select a solution. Record the good and bad points of each alternative and other influencing factors which are relevant to each alternative. Evaluate facts and other factors for each possible solution. Select a solution(s) based upon your criteria. Prepare and execute the plan for the selected solution (s). Engineering Creativity Steps Problem Analysis: problem finding Description of Creativity Step Understanding the problem context

Problem Analysis:

Problem Analysis: problem formulating

Generating Possible alternate solutions:

Ideation:

Framing the problem in concrete and meaningful ways to facilitate idea generation. Generate a variety of alternate solutions to the formulated problem. Specify a set of criteria and evaluate the generated ideas against those criteria.

Analyzing alternatives:

Evaluation:

Selecting the Best Solution(s):

Implementation:

Select the solution(s) and prepare and execute the plan for the selected solution(s).

Implementation:

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Although the problem solving and creative processes are virtually identical, researchers identify different personal traits for individuals engaging successfully in these processes. Welch defines problem-solving skills as: (using) tools, defining, goal-identification, (using) heuristics, and reasoning.(2009) However, Simon cautions that different people will use different cognitive strategies in solving problems (Simon, 1975) much as Sternberg maintains that there are different types of creative strategies that people deploy. (Sternberg, 2005) (Hipple, 2005) Kirton also identifies many different problem solving styles of people whom he calls adapters or innovators and maintains that both personality types can be effective problem solvers, depending on their capacity and on the context of the problem situation.(M. Kirton, 2003) There is no single type of person who is a good engineer problem solver or good creative engineer and you can be trained to be a better creative problem solver individually and in a team, a position long maintained by DeBono. (2006)

Supporting Creative Engineering Problem Solving

How do engineers learn and engineering educators and society support creative engineering problem solving?: First, instill in engineers the vision that their role in society is a problem solver, a translator of science into solutions that improve society and the understanding that the creative problem solver must look beyond the obvious solutions for those solutions which truly benefit society. (Crawley, 2007; Koen, 2003) Next, give engineers the training and confidence that establishes their competence and effectiveness as a societal problem solver and help them master a beginning level of scientific and technical knowledge with the understanding

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they must continue to learn creative problem solving during their whole lives. This learning must be broad-based, including the skills, facts and theories that they will need in their professional careers. (ABET Inc., 2009; Crawley, 2007) Finally help engineers attain the Bloom and Perry levels of synthesis and evaluation where they are working on ill-structured relativistic problems, that is, real world problems. (Irish, 1999a)

How can society and engineering educators support more creativity in engineering problem solving processes?: First, since the engineer must invest considerable resources to learning the domain of practice, society must support this investment. Domain changing solutions require a thorough understanding of the domain and deep insights acquired after many years of hard work and research. (Cszikszentmihalyi, 1996) Second, engineers must learn how to access the strengths of a diverse team that is working together to solve a problem in a domain. (Cszikszentmihalyi, 1996) Third, the environment within the work and life community of the engineer must support and provide motivation for creative practices and tolerate failure. (Michael Kirton, 1976) Fourth, the engineer or society must build a team that has worked across domains because team diversity stimulates creative thinking and supports the creation of unusual associations and insights, domain changing solutions. (Cszikszentmihalyi, 1996) Fifth, the engineer and society must balance problem solving teams with diverse kinds of personalities so that they can respond creatively to the wide range of problems faced by our societies. (Dweck, 2006; M. Kirton, 2003)

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Summary of Creativity Supports Engineering Thinking Becoming a creative problem solver is the goal of every engineer and teaching and developing creative problem solving skills is the goal of every engineering education program. In order to reach the creative problem solving cognitive levels an engineer must learn how to deal with ill-structured and relativistic problems where there is no simple answer only a commitment to find the best possible creative solution given the constraints-and to change that solution as new information becomes available.

Examining creativity and problem solving processes is like looking at identical twins, it's hard to know which process you are discussing without knowing the subject or first name. Researchers in human creativity and researchers in engineering problem solving have proceeded in parallel but share common definitions, discoveries and are in agreement that novelty and appropriateness are the criteria to use to identify a creative solution and a good problem solution. Problem solving and creativity, evaluated as processes and as an engineering thinking task, both include generating new ways to solve a problem as a key process step.

Creativity and problem solving are encouraged by the conditions surrounding individual or teams and the diversity of personalities and domain knowledge involved in the processes. Both require a mastery of the knowledge and processes in a domain. Novel and appropriate ideas are easier to generate, especially across domains, but domain changing problem solutions are generated in incremental steps and the result of long hard work, most often by diverse teams of engineers or collaborators.

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In examining creative problem solving the assumption is made that creative, problem solving and cognitive or thinking skills can be developed, and are not inherited or fixed. (Dweck, 2006) Debates and ideas are plentiful for how best to achieve growth in these human and societal dimensions and these strategies were not discussed. Only Bloom and Perry's mental models of cognitive processes were examined in detail. Other mental models and related concepts may also offer insights into creative problem solving. (Chi, et al., 1994) Creativity is also viewed as occurring more likely in the context of diverse teams and after substantial domain knowledge is acquired. Other theories suggest that aha moments and epiphanies occur through creative processes not requiring such arduous efforts or even team contexts. Alternate creativity theories were not considered.

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