Teaching Creative Problem Solving in Engineering Education

Teaching Creative Problem Solving in Engineering Education

René Victor Valqui Vidal (Technical University of Denmark, Denmark)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-0643-0.ch005


In this chapter, the principles of active learning and the contents of a creativity course entitled: Creativity and Problem Solving, are presented. The main purpose of this course was to create a space for discussing, reflecting and experimenting with creativity, creative processes and creative methods of relevance for university students working with problem-solving approaches. This course was developed at the Technical University of Denmark during the period 1998-2008 for engineering students of various specialities. It started with very few students and developed to a very popular course attracting many students from abroad. The selected themes, the methods and techniques, the structure of the course, the learning processes and the achieved results can be applied to a similar course for university students of other fields such as IT, Mangement Sciences, System Sciences, Computer Sciences, Design, Agriculture, Businees, Art and Education, etc. Finally some reflections, recommendations, and conclusions are also presented.
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In recent years, creativity has been widely recognized as vital to success in the emerging global economy. An issue of PeerReview (Wince-Smith D. L., 2006), a publication of the Association of American Colleges and Universities, is entitled The Creativity Imperative and offers a collection of papers acknowledging the importance of creativity in building a competitive workforce and calling for education institutions to play a more active role in teaching creativity to students. In the last decades, many industrialised countries are shifting from an industrial economy to a knowledge economy, an economy based on the production and distribution of knowledge and information, rather than production and distribution of goods. In these economies, knowledge workers are “symbolic analysts” who manipulate symbols rather than machines, and who create conceptual artefacts rather than physical objects. Then the importance of creativity, innovation, and ingenuity is central to the knowledge economy. If the core of the knowledge society is creativity, then the key task for educators is to prepare learners to be capable of participating creatively in an innovation economy (OECD, 2015).

Individual creativity is ubiquitous. New technologies both enable and urge fresh approaches to creativity in the context of education. University-level education offers a natural place to adjust pedagogical structures in favor of an approach to learning that organizes the intellectual community into new patterns of interaction and time allocation. This direction is made possible by the vast improvements in access to information, data, knowledge, and opinion. University students live in this world of access, in an ever-expanding sea of material. Networking second-by-second is central to their zeitgeist. The result is far more than social. Interaction and collaboration are now important in most workplaces, and are expected to be even more important in the future. Higher education needs to use its natural resources in the ways that develop content knowledge and skills in a culture infused at new levels by investigation, cooperation, connection, integration, and synthesis. Creativity is necessary to accomplish this goal. When central and culturally pervasive, creativity becomes exemplified and enhanced for every student. As a technique that can be advanced through practice, problem solving becomes a driving pedagogy in developing creativity in higher education (Vidal, 2009). Universities must meet the challenge of reapportioning time if suggested changes are to occur. The format of classroom lecture is by nature, not a natural laboratory for interaction and collaboration. Making the curriculum about interpersonal exchange opens the experience for every student to express, share, and test his or her creative instincts. Exchange turns the historical paradigm around and makes the presence of other students and faculty the core attribute of the curriculum and the scheduled classes value added.

The seminal book, A Whole New Mind (Pink, 2005), the author makes the point that in the twenty-first-century workplace, collaborative thinking and interacting will be increasingly core. Although jobs will change, diverge, and morph, employers are more and more going to seek workers who are adept at teamwork and capable of contributing original thoughts to group assignments and tasks. As the university’s purpose lies beyond mere career preparation, it is also incumbent on the academy to validate the college diploma as relevant to the future of its graduates. Therefore, the curricula must be intentionally formed around courses, projects, and seminars in which both collaboration and creativity work in consort.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Action Learning: The process in which a group of people come together more or less regularly to help each other to learn from their experiences.

Action Research: The process by which change and understanding can be pursued at the one time.

Convergent Thinking: A problem solving technique involving the bringing together different ideas from different participants or fields to determine a most satisfying solution to a lucidly defined problem.

Creativity: The ability to challenge assumptions, recognize patterns, see in new ways, make connections, take risks, and seize upon chance.

Facilitate: To promote, to aid, to make easy, or to simplify.

Experiential Learning: The process for drawing learning from experience.

Divergent Thinking: The strategy of solving problems characterized by the proposal of a multiplicity of possible solutions in an attempt to determine the one that works.

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