Teaching Creativity in Engineering Courses
ShannaR.Daly,Erika A. Mosyjows ki,and ColleenM.Seifert
Universit y of Michigan
Background The ability to engage in a creative process to solve a problem or to design a
novel artifact is essential to engineering as a profession. Research indicates a need for cur-
ricula that enhance students’ creative skills in engineering.
Purpose Our purpose was to document current practices in engineering pedagogy with
regard to opportunities for students’ creative growth by examining learning goals, instruc-
tional methods, and assessments focused on cognitive creative skills.
Design/Method We conducted a critical case study of engineering pedagogy at a single
university with seven engineering courses where instructors stated the goal of fostering crea-
tivity. Data included instructor and student interviews, student surveys, and course materi-
als. For qualitative analysis, we used frameworks by Trefﬁnger, Young, Selby, and Shepardson
and by Wiggins and McTighe.
Results One aspect of creativity, convergent thinking (including analysis and evaluation),
was well represented in the engineering courses in our case study. However, instruction
on generating ideas and openness to exploring ideas was less often evident. For many of
the creative skills, especially those related to divergent thinking and idea exploration,
assessments were lacking.
Conclusions An analysis of pedagogy focused on goals, instruction, and assessments in the
engineering curriculum revealed opportunities for growth in students’ creative skill develop-
ment. Designing assessments that motivate students to improve their creative skills and
to become more aware of their own creative process is a key need in engineering pedagogy.
Keywords creativity; design; engineering pedagogy
The ability to engage in a creative process to deﬁne or solve a problem or design a novel arti-
fact is essential to engineering as a profession, and especially to future engineers (Prahalad &
Ramaswamy, 2003). Numerous reports emphasize the need to support engineering students in
their ability to think creatively (Felder, Woods, Stice, & Rugarcia, 2000; National Academy of
Engineering, 2004; Sheppard, Macatangay, Colby, & Sullivan, 2009). Standard designs are
appropriate and necessary in many situations, but their outcomes result in maintaining the sta-
tus quo (Howard, Culley, & Dekonick, 2008). Many variables affect solution success or failure,
but individual or team creative thinking within the environment is a key source of innovative
ideas (Cropley, 2006; Harvard Business School Press, 2003; Soosay & Hyland, 2004).
Journal of Engineering Education V
C2014 ASEE. http://wileyonlinelibrary.com/journal/jee
July 2014, Vol. 103, No. 3, pp. 417–449 DOI 10.1002/jee.20048
The dependence of engineering progress on creativity is evident in the design focus of
many engineering programs. Through creative design, engineers are able to innovate in ways
that improve our quality of life and the state of the world (Amabile, 1996; Charyton &
Merrill, 2009; Howard et al., 2008; Mumford & Gustafson, 1988). Innovation requires the
ability to generate novel and useful concepts, discover problems, identify design opportunities,
and reconcile contradictions (e.g., Altshuller, 1984; Amabile, 1996; Cropley, 2006; Nickerson,
1999; Sternberg, 1998; Torrance, 1962; Trefﬁnger, Young, Selby, & Shepardson, 2002).
Felder (1987) stated, “It would seem to be our responsibility to produce some creative
engineers – or at least not to extinguish the creative spark in our students” (p. 222). Yet a
study by Kazerounian and Foley (2007) found that engineering students felt their instructors
did not value creativity, while the instructors reported that they did value it, but found it
lacking in their students. The study also concluded that, across ﬁelds, engineering has the
most room for improvement in supporting creative skill development. In engineering, the
word “creativity” may evoke discomfort because it seems subjective and ambiguous. As a
result, engineering students may not feel risk taking and creative skills are a valued part of
The goal of our work was to document how engineering courses currently incorporate
pedagogy for students’ creative skills by examining learning goals, instructional methods, and
assessments focused on cognitive creative skills. We used a critical case study approach and
focused on a single university (Creswell, 1994; Flyvbjerg, 2001; 2006; Patton, 1990). Inter-
views with instructors and students, student surveys, and course documents were collected
from seven engineering courses at a major Midwestern university’s engineering college. Five
of these courses were design oriented; the others were a laboratory course and a technical
application course. We examined the pedagogy in these courses to ﬁnd how they fostered
creativity, the extent to which current course practices took advantage of known creative
techniques, and where there might be opportunities for further development of creative peda-
gogy within engineering courses.
Background and Theoretical Foundation
Creativity has been described as a type of novel thinking, where people redeﬁne problems,
see gaps in knowledge, generate ideas, analyze ideas, and take reasonable risks in idea devel-
opment (Gardner, 1993; Sternberg et al., 1999; Sternberg, 2001; Torrance, 1974; Trefﬁnger,
Isaksen, & Dorval, 2000; Weisberg, 1986). Creative thinking has also been deﬁned as the
ability to combine and connect ideas in new ways (such as across concepts and ﬁelds, among
existing projects, ideas, or experiences; Finke, Ward, & Smith, 1992). One of the most
widely accepted deﬁnitions of a creative outcome is that it is both novel and useful (Amabile,
1996). In the ﬁeld of engineering, deﬁnitions of creativity are similar (Besemer & O’Quinn,
1987; Cropley, 2006; Larson, Thomas, & Leviness, 1999; Nickerson, 1999; Weisberg, 1986,
1999) and emphasize the need to meet functional requirements in a novel way by using the
phrase “functional creativity” (Cropley & Cropley, 2005, p. 171)
While some engineers believe they are not creative people (Kazerounian & Foley, 2007),
this belief does not mean that they cannot be taught to act creatively (Scott, Leritz, &
Mumford, 2004). Creativity is not an attribute or ability that one either has or does not have
(Kirton, 2003); rather, all individuals are capable of exhibiting it in different ways, at differ-
ent levels, and in differing times and circumstances (Cropley, 2001; Rhodes, 1961; Sternberg
418 Daly, Mosyjowski, & Seifert
& Lubart, 1995; Trefﬁnger et al., 2002). Students’ creative skills can be developed and fos-
tered, just as practice in any specialized domain can lead to improvements in skills (Ericsson,
Krampe, & Tesch-R€omer, 1993). A university course can improve students’ creative skills by
aligning course content, instruction, assessments, and the environment towards creativity-
focused learning goals.
Theories and studies of creativity provide insight on how courses can affect the develop-
ment of students’ creative skills. Some models of creativity emphasize environmental condi-
tions (Dewulf & Baillie, 1999; Rhodes, 1961; Trefﬁnger et al., 2002; Sternberg & Lubart,
1995) or the interaction of the person and situation (Woodman & Schoenfeldt, 1990) in the
production of creative outcomes. A meta-analysis of 70 studies concluded that successful
training programs involved careful instruction focused on the cognitive processes involved in
creativity (Scott et al., 2004). Across studies, training and practice of speciﬁc cognitive skills
led to increased creative outcomes. While a wide variety of potential factors, including social
and environmental contexts, were included in the meta-analysis, training on cognitive skills
was found to be the critical active ingredient in improvements on students’ creativity assess-
ment scores. Scott and colleagues concluded that a focus on cognitive skills for improving
creativity is the most effective.
Cognitive processes in creativity are deﬁned as the thinking patterns, traits, and mechanisms
that guide and direct creative tasks (Fink, Ward, & Smith, 1992). Mumford, Mobley, Uhlman,
Reiter-Palmon, and Doares’s (1991) model also focuses on thinking patterns through speciﬁc
stages in a creative process, including problem ﬁnding, information gathering, information
organization, conceptual combination, idea generation, idea evaluation, implementation plan-
ning, and solution monitoring. Trefﬁnger et al. (2002) focus on the cognitive operations that
underlie the creative process as a whole. This framework synthesizes over 100 studies on crea-
tivity (Amabile, 1983; Getzels & Csikszentmihalyi, 1976; Csikszentmihalyi, 1996; Gardner,
1993; Guilford, 1967; Rhodes, 1961; Torrance, 1962; Sternberg, 2000).
Trefﬁnger et al.’s (2002) framework consists of four primary categories:
Generating Ideas – also referred to as divergent thinking (e.g., Guilford, 1967;
Runco, 1991; Wallach, 1970)
Digging Deeper into Ideas – known as convergent thinking (e.g., Guilford, 1967;
Finke et al., 1992)
Openness and Courage to Explore Ideas – involves specific personal characteristics
(e.g., Rhodes, 1961)
Listening to One’s Inner Voice – also known as reflection or metacognition (e.g.,
Flavell, 1979; Sch€on, 1993)
By breaking down creativity into its cognitive components, Trefﬁnger et al. resolve some
of the ambiguity in deﬁning creativity and provide a more practical understanding of crea-
tivity and the ways it can be taught and assessed. Speciﬁc categories and indicators of creativity
from this framework are discussed in the Methods section.
Creativity Pedagogy in Engineering
While some university courses provide explicit creativity instruction (Bull, Montgomery, &
Baloche, 1995), few are situated in the engineering context (Charyton & Merrill, 2009;
Dewulf & Baillie, 1999; Kazerounian & Foley, 2007; Stouffer, Russel, & Oliva, 2004).
Teaching Creativity in Engineering Courses 419
A common instructional approach in engineering education is open-ended projects,
where the target product is not deﬁned in order to allow creative opportunities. Projects
often involve real-world problems with actual stakeholders, and students work in teams to
generate solutions (Dewulf & Baillie, 1999; Stouffer et al., 2004). The instructors may also
allow students to select their own project topics. Students sometimes select project topics by
investigating personal challenges (e.g., Baillie & Walker, 1998). Instructors may provide
tools to guide students, such as methods to better understand potential users of designed
products (e.g., Antonucci, 2011) and idea templates with guidelines to help students con-
sider important aspects of a problem (e.g., Dewulf & Baillie, 1999). Because open-ended
projects have multiple possible solutions, they provide students with the opportunity to gen-
erate creative ideas.
One argument in favor of open-ended projects is that students will reﬂect on their own
creative processes as they work through a project, and thereby see ways to improve their crea-
tivity (Baillie & Walker, 1998; Ishii, Suzuki, Fujiyoshi, Fujii, & Kozawa, 2006; Jablokow,
2001). The aim is to support students’ metacognitive skills (reﬂection on one’s thought
processes), a recognized method to support deeper learning (Bransford, Brown, & Cocking,
1999; Brown, 1987; Chi, Bassok, Lewis, Reimann, & Glaser, 1989; Chi, de Leeuw, Chiu,
& LaVancher, 1994; Sch€on, 1993). However, some studies suggest that in practice, engi-
neering courses rarely teach directed metacognitive activities related to creativity (Baillie &
Walker, 1998; Ishii et al., 2006; Jablokow, 2001).
The learning environment within a course has also been shown to affect the creativity of
student outcomes. Studies have shown that when risk taking is supported in the classroom,
students’ creativity increases (Sternberg & Williams, 1996; Thousand, Villa, & Nevin, 1994;
Wilde, 1993). Other classes have supplied structures to guide students, such as assigning the
task of generating three different solutions and requiring interaction with other students, in
order to encourage and promote creativity (Baillie & Walker, 1998; Dewulf & Baillie,
1999). While some efforts are underway to implement these methods in traditional engi-
neering courses, in the academy, change is always slow, and as a discipline, engineering is
Many engineering programs face inherent challenges in teaching creativity due to a lack
of instructional materials in the engineering context, limited time within demanding curric-
ula, and lack of instructor knowledge on how to support students in developing these skills
(Felder, 1987; Grasso, Brown Burkins, Helble, & Martinelli, 2008; Kazerounian & Foley,
2007; Klukken, Parsons, & Colubus, 1997; Pappas & Pappas, 2003; Richards, 1998; Tolbert
& Daly, 2013). Nonetheless, studies have shown general creative skills can be improved
with cognitive training (Scott, Leritz, & Mumford, 2004). Within the context of engineer-
ing, several studies have shown increased student performance on speciﬁc tasks related to
creativity. For example, Cropley and Cropley (2000) found that engineering undergraduates
who received feedback after taking a creativity assessment had more creative outcomes on a
machine development task compared with students who did not participate in the feedback
sessions. Chen, Jiang, and Hsu (2005) researched the effect of a three-course sequence on
students’ divergent thinking skills and found signiﬁcant improvement as measured by the
Torrance tests of creative thinking (Torrance, 1974). In a study of the effect of a project-
based course on engineering students’ creativity, Seng (2000) found students made signiﬁcant
gains on cognitive abilities as measured by discovering concept relationships and ﬂexibility of
thinking. These studies suggest that opportunities for creative practice may improve students’
creativity in engineering contexts.
420 Daly, Mosyjowski, & Seifert
The goal of our work was to document how engineering pedagogy currently incorporates
pedagogy for growth of students’ creative skills by examining learning goals, instructional
methods, and assessments focused on cognitive creative skills. The scope of the study included
instructors’ planned pedagogical approaches and their implementation in classes, but did not
involve assessing the creative outcomes for students. Examining these elements allowed us to
consider how the course design provided opportunities for students’ creative development.
A case study is an in-depth examination of a distinct instance of a class of phenomena, such
as an event, an individual, a group, an activity, or a community (Abercrombie, Hill, Turner,
& Erofeev, 1984; Shepard & Greene, 2003). Our unit of analysis was engineering pedagogy
at a single university. To investigate our research question, we chose a critical case study
approach; thus we selected courses with strategic relevance to creativity in engineering at one
university (Creswell, 1994; Flyvbjerg, 2001, 2006; Patton, 2001). The critical case approach
is a qualitative approach that has an interpretivist epistemological perspective. This perspec-
tive recognizes that the outcomes depend on the context, and the context is integrated in the
analysis of ﬁndings (Creswell, 1994; Patton, 2001; van Note Chism, Douglas, & Hilson,
2008). The goal of the approach is to gather data that facilitate logical deductions rather
Case and Light (2011) highlighted case study methodology as a research approach that
can increase knowledge in engineering education, but warned that a common misunder-
standing is that the small sample size means the research lacks signiﬁcant value. The value
of case study research is in the detailed, concrete, and practical data situated within a particu-
lar context (Flybjerg, 2001). Case and Light (2011) also emphasized that case study methods
are particularly appropriate for studies related to “speciﬁc application of initiatives or innova-
tions to improve or enhance learning and teaching” (p. 191). Rather than proving the effec-
tiveness of any particular instructional method, the case study method allows the careful
examination of the use of pedagogy within a particular course along with the overall course
culture. In the present study, using the case methodology allowed the exploration of how
creative skills instruction is built into existing engineering courses. Some instances of creativity
pedagogy may remain unobserved because they were not a part of the speciﬁc courses sampled.
We chose to focus on a Midwestern public university with a Carnegie Classiﬁcation as a
research university with very high research activity (RU/VH). Its college of engineering
enrolls over 8,000 students and offers degrees in a variety of departments and multidiscipli-
The sample size for case study research is traditionally small; a single case is commonly
acceptable (Baxter & Jack, 2008; Flyvbjerg, 2011; Gerring, 2005; Thomas, 2011; Yin, 2009).
Our case study included data collected from seven separate engineering courses to capture mul-
tiple places within the curriculum where creative skills may be incorporated into pedagogy.
The speciﬁc courses included in the study were identiﬁed as having a focus on creative skills
by an associate dean in the College of Engineering, a faculty committee for enhancing creativi-
ty on campus, and professional staff who advise faculty on instructional techniques. Our main
Teaching Creativity in Engineering Courses 421
concern was to maximize our likelihood of capturing creative opportunities integrated into
engineering courses. Of the nine courses identiﬁed, instructors of seven agreed to participate in
the study, and they conﬁrmed that creativity was a learning objective for their course.
Of these seven engineering courses, ﬁve had titles and descriptions explicitly emphasizing
design. Design courses are often cited as providing opportunities for creativity, so it was not
surprising that these courses were recommended. Two of the seven courses were undergradu-
ate introductory engineering (100- and 200-level) courses, three were upper-level (300- and
400-level) undergraduate courses, one was a combined graduate and undergraduate course,
and one was an introductory graduate course. Including this range of courses allowed for the
observation of creative skill pedagogy across levels of instruction. Two of the design courses
were cross-disciplinary and drew students from various disciplines in engineering as well as
from other colleges within the university. The other ﬁve courses provided domain-speciﬁc
instruction across a range of disciplines, including biomedical engineering, electrical and
computer engineering, materials engineering, and mechanical engineering. The courses took
place during the same semester.
In line with the case study approach, a variety of data types and collection methods were
used (Case & Light, 2011; Creswell, 1994; Flyvbjerg, 2001, 2006; Patton, 2001; Punch,
1998). We interviewed each instructor and up to two students in each course, surveyed the
entire class toward the end of the semester, and gathered key course materials (e.g., sylla-
bus, assignments, lecture materials, and project descriptions). This diverse dataset allowed
us to gain a comprehensive understanding of course requirements and activities, the
instructor’s goals and pedagogical approaches, and the perspectives and experiences of stu-
dents in each course.
During the instructor interviews, we asked instructors to describe the goals of the course
associated with creativity along with the related instruction and assessments. The interviews
were semistructured, lasted approximately an hour, and were audio-recorded. To facilitate the
ﬂow of the interview, we used the term “creative process” to indicate all of the related activities
involved in creative skills. The interview protocol was pilot-tested with two instructors of non-
engineering courses to ensure that the questions were understandable, and that they facilitated
a ﬂow of information pertinent to our research questions. Example questions were:
Can you describe to me a situation that would demonstrate a student is engaged in a
successful creative process in your course? What are key components in a successful
When students leave your course, what do you want them to know about the creative process?
Can you describe a technique or lesson or project that you do as part of your class that
you think is important in helping students develop their knowledge and skills of a crea-
tive process? What makes it successful?
How do you know if students are successful in improving their creative process skills?
How successful do you think the course is in helping students with their creative process?
Student interviews were conducted and focused on gathering the same types of information
as in the instructor interviews about students’ experiences in the courses. We aimed to interview
two students in each course, and recruited them through an e-mail message inviting volunteers
422 Daly, Mosyjowski, & Seifert
and offering a $15 incentive. Conﬁdentiality was guaranteed to participants; thus instructors
did not know which students participated. We piloted the protocol with two students to ensure
they understood the questions about how the course goals, instruction, and assessments affected
their creative growth. Example questions in the protocol were:
What do you think your instructor wanted you to learn about creative processes?
Can you tell me about a specific experience in class where you think your creative pro-
cess skills improved?
How did the instructor teach about creative processes?
In what ways did your instructor give feedback on your creative process skills
What do you think helped most in developing your creative process?
The ﬁnal survey provided a more complete picture of how the class as a whole viewed
course activities and their relationship to creativity development. The survey was short and
required approximately 20 minutes to complete. We piloted this instrument with 50 students
taking a course that was not part of our case study population. Revisions were made accord-
ing to clariﬁcation questions students asked as they were completing the survey as well as
their responses to the questions. Example items in the ﬁnal survey that were used to gather
additional student perspectives were:
How much do you think your creative process skills developed as a result of this course?
List the three projects/activities/lectures/assignments, etc. that you think most impacted
your creative process skill development. Please also explain why and how they affected
Are there any elements that you felt were missing from the course that you think
would have benefitted your creative process skills? What are they? Why do you think
they would have helped?
We collected course materials for seven courses, completed seven instructor interviews
and ten student interviews, and collected survey data from 240 students (shown in Table 1).
In Courses D and E, we were able to recruit only one student from each to interview.
In Course F, we did not complete student interviews at the request of the instructor. All stu-
dents present on the day we gave the survey agreed to participate.
For each course, the instructor and student interviews, open-ended student surveys, and
course materials were grouped together for analysis. The grouping method treated all of the
materials for each course as a collection to provide a more complete understanding of the
goals of the course, instructional methods, and assessments. The data triangulation provided
a way to establish validity by analyzing the research question from multiple perspectives as
well as providing the means to uncover deep meaning in the data (Patton, 2002).
We used a deductive coding approach, where the four thematic categories (see Deﬁning
Creativity above) were pre-identiﬁed (Fereday & Muir-Cochrane, 2006) These four catego-
ries were selected for the analysis on the basis of evidence that training programs focusing
on cognitive skills prove successful at improving creativity (Scott et al., 2004). We did not
Teaching Creativity in Engineering Courses 423
include other categories from the Trefﬁnger framework that described biographical (self-
descriptive) interests and personality traits such as tenacity and work ethic (Trefﬁnger et al.,
2002). We omitted these categories because they are static individual difference measures
that do not change much over one’s lifetime (Roberts, Walton, & Viechtbauer, 2006), and
so are unlikely to be affected by a semester-long course. The resulting coding scheme is
shown in Table 2 with working deﬁnitions of the categories.
To organize our course analysis, we identiﬁed three separate components of courses using
the backward design framework (Wiggins & McTighe, 2005). This framework breaks down
course design into three components: desired results, learning plan, and assessment evidence.
Wiggins and McTighe (2005) proposed that these three components should be aligned so
that desired results are clearly stated, assessments are based on evidence of obtaining the
desired results, and then a learning plan is constructed to support students in achieving
the desired results (cf. Biggs, 2003). For each of the courses in the study, we assessed each of
the creativity indicators as to whether it was included in all three of these course compo-
nents: as a learning goal, practiced or discussed in instruction, and included in assessments.
A team of independent raters separately coded the data after completing a training
sequence in which they read Trefﬁnger et al. (2002), practiced coding one case of data, and
compared and discussed this practice coding with the team of coders. A rater ﬁrst reviewed
the data collected for each course and then coded according to the 18 separate indicators in
Trefﬁnger et al.’s (2002) four major categories as well as the three components of the design
framework (Wiggins & McTighe, 2005). Then, a second rater reviewed the raw data and
then the ﬁrst rater’s coding to identify any gaps or discrepancies, and kept track of any
changes to the original coding. Once raters completed coding, they discussed disagreements
to reach consensus. Finally, a third rater reviewed all of the coded data for the seven courses
to conﬁrm consistency in the raters’ interpretation of the coding scheme. This procedure
using two independent coders and a ﬁnal third coder supported dependability of our ﬁndings.
Table 1 Data Collected for Each Course
students Course materials
A Instructor A Student A1 22 24 Syllabus, course website
B Instructor B Student B1
30 38 Syllabus, assignment descriptions, lecture slides,
reading list, handouts, course website
C Instructor C Student C1
12 18 Syllabus, lecture slides, course website
D Instructor D Student D1 58 61 Syllabus, course description, lecture notes,
assignment descriptions, quizzes, course website
E Instructor E Student E1 24 26 Syllabus, course website
F Instructor F none 45 51 Syllabus, course website
G Instructor G Student G1
49 79 Syllabus, lecture notes, schedule, assignments,
homework sets, labs, handouts, course website
Total 7 10 240
424 Daly, Mosyjowski, & Seifert
In the following section, we discuss the data as a collection and provide speciﬁc examples of
the evidence collected within each category. Table 3 provides a summary of our ﬁndings,
with each course mapped by evidence for the Trefﬁnger et al. (2002) creativity indicators
and divided into the three course components of the backward design framework (Wiggins
& McTighe, 2005). The letters A through G represent the courses, and “none” indicates
there was no evidence in any of the classes for the coding combination.
This analysis revealed that the engineering courses focused on convergent creative skills
(Digging Deeper into Ideas), evident in the desired results, learning plans, and assessment
evidence for these skills. Engineering curricula are especially strong in analytical skills; thus,
it was not surprising that analysis, redeﬁnition (iteration), and evaluation were cornerstones
for the courses in our study. For example, in Course A, the value of redeﬁnition (iteration)
was clearly articulated, as evident in the course syllabus, student interviews and surveys, and
instructor interview. The desired result was that students practice this process of redeﬁnition
(iteration) and become aware of its importance in problem solving and design. The learning
Table 2 Coding Scheme for
Cognitive Aspects of Creativity
Indicator Working deﬁnition
Fluency Generating a large number of ideas in response to an open-ended question
Flexibility Shifting the direction of one’s thinking or changing one’s point of view
Originality Generating new and unusual ideas
Elaboration Adding details and expanding ideas
Metaphorical thinking Using comparison or analogy to make new connections
Digging Deeper into Ideas
Analyzing Breaking down an idea into components to understand them
Synthesizing Combining two different themes within an idea
Reorganizing or redeﬁning Revisiting information to change its form
Evaluating Appraising the potential value of ideas
Seeing relationships Drawing connections between different ideas
Desiring to resolve
order to disorder
Organizing disparate components
Openness and Courage to Explore Ideas
Problem sensitivity Seeking out and identifying problems
Aesthetic sensitivity Attempting to make pleasing formulations of ideas
Fantasy and imagination Considering “unreal” or “impossible” ideas
Tolerance for ambiguity Allowing openness to uncertainty within a problem
Intuition Drawing upon an internalized understanding
Integration of dichotomies
Incorporating opposing ideas
Listening to One’s Inner Voice
Metacognition Combining (a) reﬂecting on the cognitive processes underway
(introspection) and (b) awareness of creativity
Note. Adapted from Trefﬁnger et al. (2002).
Teaching Creativity in Engineering Courses 425
plans involved multiple rounds of building representations, testing ideas, presenting ideas,
and gathering feedback, and also included post-presentation discussions on how the pro-
posed outcome changed over time and what next steps could be taken to make it better. Stu-
dents were assessed for their level of experimentation, thorough investigation of design
ideas, and level of iteration at the end of the semester through the use of a rubric.
Another trend was the presence of desired results and learning plans related to divergent
thinking (Generating Ideas), most often related to ﬂuency, ﬂexibility, and originality. In a
few cases, course structures also included assessment evidence related to divergent thinking.
For example, Course B had clearly articulated desired results related to idea ﬂuency. Fluency
Table 3 Summary of Course Alignment
with Trefﬁnger et al. (2002) Framework
Fluency A, B, C A, B, C, E B, C
Flexibility A, B, C, E,
A, B, E, F none
Originality B, C, D, E D, E D
Elaboration none C, D none
Metaphorical thinking G F none
Digging Deeper Into Ideas
Analyzing A, B, C, D,
E, F, G
B, C, F, G A, B, C, D,
E, F, G
Synthesizing C, E, G D, E A
Reorganizing or redeﬁning A, B, C, D,
E, F, G
A, B, C, D,
E, F, G
A, B, C, D,
Evaluating A, C, F A, B, C, D,
A, B, C, D,
E, F, G
Seeing relationships none none none
Desiring to resolve
order to disorder
A, C C none
Openness and Courage to Explore Ideas
Problem sensitivity A, B, C, D,
E, F, G
A, B, C, D,
Aesthetic sensitivity D none A
A, C A, E, G none
A, C, D, F A, C, F none
Intuition C, F none none
none none none
Listening to One’s Inner Voice
Metacognition A, B, E A, B, C,
426 Daly, Mosyjowski, & Seifert
was discussed by the instructor, evident in the course materials, and afﬁrmed by the students
in interviews and the open-ended survey. The learning plan related to ﬂuency involved mul-
tiple exercises, where the instructor would give students a time limit and a quantity goal for
idea generation. Students were assessed through regular reports in which they listed a certain
number of ideas in order to receive full credit.
Problem sensitivity, in Openness and Courage to Explore Ideas, was also prominent in
the desired results and learning plans. For example, in Course C, the instructor had a clear,
desired result for students to understand the problem context. The learning plan required
students to interview potential customers in order to more deeply probe and shape the con-
straints of their problem. This desired result was also evident in Course E, whose learning
plan included regularly bringing in stakeholders to work with students on identifying an
existing problem. While there was some evidence regarding tolerance for ambiguity, it and
other creative indices were observed less frequently within this category.
The ﬁnal category, Listening to One’s Inner Voice, was not often expressed as a desired
result, but ﬁve of the courses included occasions for students to reﬂect on their processes as
part of the learning plans. In Course F, the instructor devoted time in multiple class sessions
for students to investigate personal biases and their effect on the choices made in problem-
solving approaches, data collection, and interpretation of ﬁndings. The activity helped stu-
dents evaluate their decision-making processes, and become more aware of their approaches
and how they made decisions.
These ﬁndings, though, also show that many categories of creative skills were not addressed
by any of the courses, and for many of the creative skills, the desired results, learning plans,
and assessment evidence did not align. For example, the convergent skill of synthesizing was a
goal for three courses; yet, only one of the three courses which cited synthesizing as a goal
included instruction in it, while another included instruction in it without a clear learning
goal, and a third included assessment related to the ability to synthesize, yet did not state a
learning goal or include instruction focused on synthesis. These omissions are discussed further
in the Discussion section. The following sections provide more detail about how instructors
stated goals, provided lessons and activities, and assessed student learning related to creative
skills. Multiple examples are presented to demonstrate the various ways instructors incorpo-
rated creative skills in their courses, and to suggest ways to use these practices in other courses.
The appendix presents additional examples of comments observed within each category in
Table 2. Instances of categories that lacked data support are discussed in a later section.
The generation of ideas is often considered an example of divergent thinking, where differ-
ent answers are generated for a given problem (Guilford, 1967). In the engineering courses
in our study, students were primarily generating ideas for solutions, but in two of the
courses, idea generation also took place as students were exploring possible problems for
which they would later generate solutions. Thus, we considered both generating ideas for
solutions and generating ideas for problems in our analysis.
Desired results All of the instructors expressed learning goals related to at least one aspect
of idea generation in their courses. In the design courses, instructors often focused on the
desired result of students’ ability to suggest multiple solutions for design. Only two instructors
explicitly articulated desired results related to ﬂexibility in generating ideas. Of these two, one
instructor explained that he wanted students to learn to “let go” of previous bias and consider
problems in new ways:
Teaching Creativity in Engineering Courses 427
Coming up with ... optimal solutions that, not too constrained by bias, previous bias.
(Instructor interview, Course C)
Likewise, the other instructor taught a technical disciplinary engineering course with rela-
tively structured content. He described ﬂexibility as a desired result in that he wanted students
to be able to apply knowledge from other domains to their understanding of the course mate-
rial. Only one instructor described the desired result of metaphorical thinking, emphasizing
drawing connections between the concepts and relationships within a speciﬁc engineering
discipline to similar relationships in other ﬁelds:
Whenever they see a circuit, I’d like to have them see the underlying input/output rela-
tionships between what signals might be doing before they go through that circuit and
what they’re going to be doing when they come out. I would then also like them to be
able to see that same input/output relationship could be explained using mechanical
components, using chemical components, using economic components, using social
psych components, using whatever. (Instructor interview, Course G)
Learning plan In all of the courses except Course G, there was evidence of learning
plans related to Generating Ideas. The indicator ﬂuency was often observed in strategies to
help students with the ﬂow of ideas. Course E placed a heavy emphasis on ﬂuency and used
class time and structured assignments to help students generate multiple possibilities. The
instructor implemented traditional brainstorming methods, but also provided students with
a variety of information-gathering experiences (with clients, doing research, etc.) to seed
additional idea generation:
I’ve been a part of several brainstorming sessions. So with the class I’m taking, we had
to do that about eight times. ... So a clinician, a doctor, would come in and tell us a
problem that he had, and we’d brainstorm solutions to his problem. (Student inter-
view, Course E)
In other classes, information-gathering experiences took place, but were rarely paired
with additional activities, instruction, or assignments to facilitate using that knowledge to
increase ﬂuency. Some instructors encouraged students to consider the problem from differ-
ent perspectives. For example, in Course A, the instructor stated that ﬂexibility was facili-
tated by using reverse engineering both to initiate a solution to a problem and to ﬁnd a new
problem. In one multidisciplinary design class, Course B, the instructor had students work
through classic problems designed to “drive them crazy because the answer should be
obvious.” The students then discovered why their conventional approaches may be limiting
by “deﬁning the problem either differently or too narrowly.” Adding differing perspectives
by working in teams with students from other disciplines was another method used in two
courses. While many instructors listed originality as a desired result, there was rarely any evi-
dence of explicit instruction associated with these stated goals. Most frequently, instructors
relied upon learning plans that included open-ended problems as the method for generating
original solutions. One instructor described such an open-ended approach:
Allow students to do whatever they wish. Provide guidelines but make them fairly
broad and general. (Instructor interview, Course D)
Evidence of elaboration during idea generation (such as elaborating on possible problems)
was seen in Courses C and D. Learning plans focused on collecting observational data
428 Daly, Mosyjowski, & Seifert
related to the problems under consideration, as well as talking with stakeholders. Metaphori-
cal thinking was evident in the learning plan of only one course. Using comparison or analo-
gies to make connections and formulate new ideas can be a very powerful creative tool,
although only two instructors alluded to the use of analogies as a tool in their classrooms.
Assessment evidence Although all instructors expressed desired results and most de-
scribed learning plans related to idea generation, there was very little use of assessment evi-
dence in the courses. In two of the courses (Courses B and C), it was speciﬁed on
assignments that students should include a speciﬁc number of concept ideas to receive full
points. But in all other classes, none of the materials indicated that instructors used any
method to assess the ﬂuency of student ideas. Only one class (Course D) explicitly included
assessment evidence of students’ originality as points contributing to grades, where students’
ﬁnal project received one to ﬁve points (out of 100) on the basis of the originality of the
design. In the other classes, instructors often gave feedback on students’ ideas; they presum-
ably were inﬂuenced by how original they thought students’ ideas were. Assessment evidence
of originality was not explicitly present in any of the other assignment documents or data
collected about the courses. Additional data for the indicators in the Generating Ideas cate-
gory are included in the appendix.
Digging Deeper intoIdeas
Convergent thinking involves identifying solutions that ﬁt many constraints at once (e.g.,
Brophy, 2006; Cropley, 2006; Finke et al., 1992; Guilford, 1967). A traditional view of engi-
neering expertise would include a heavy emphasis on these analytical skills. While instructors
and students explicitly linked divergent thinking activities to the development of creative skills,
rarely did they link convergent indicators to creativity. Yet convergent thinking skills are an
important aspect of the creative process, and there was a great deal of evidence for convergent
skill building in the courses.
Desired results Analyzing was a key desired result for each of the courses in our study.
Analysis, such as breaking a problem into subparts and determining relationships among
them, was apparent in all of the courses. Each had desired results aimed at supporting stu-
dents’ ability to think deeply about the problems, contexts, and ideas, and how data could be
collected to inform their approach to addressing a problem. Desired results related to analy-
sis also included developing students’ ability to determine which aspects of problems were
important and their ability to compare ideas they had generated to existing products in the
marketplace. Likewise, many of the courses included desired results for students to synthe-
size ideas, information, and perspectives. Reorganizing or redeﬁning was evident as a learn-
ing goal, speciﬁed as iteration, or repeated attempts to solve a problem.
Evaluating was another convergent creativity indicator that played a central role in the
courses in our study. Desired results for students’ skills in evaluation came in multiple forms,
including the ability to develop tests to evaluate the effectiveness of a product, material, or
function; identifying gaps and strengths in one’s own ideas or other existing ideas; and build-
ing a case to prove to someone else that an idea is worth the investment. Resolving ambigu-
ity was only rarely reﬂected in desired results across courses.
Learning plans Instructors in all of the courses described learning plans that allowed stu-
dents to engage in activities where they developed and practiced the convergent skills related to
Digging Deeper into Ideas. In many of the courses, students presented their ideas along with
an analysis of why they chose the idea that they did, and why that idea was different from others
already in existence. A key component for many of the courses was analyzing data collected
Teaching Creativity in Engineering Courses 429
through self-designed experiments to test ideas. For one of the non-design classes, this focus
also meant that much of the class time was spent practicing and discussing analysis.
Only two of the courses (D and E) contained evidence of explicit learning plans related
to synthesis. In one course, the instructor had project teams share interesting features of their
designs, and other teams were then supposed to synthesize some of these aspects with their
We’ll have a “how’d they do that” session. And a “how they do that session” is that
you saw on somebody else’s [project] that they had blinking blue lights in the back-
ground. ... So that group will stand up and say, you know, “how we did the blinking
blue lights is ... blah.” And then they explain the process, and it’s, okay, we’ll incorpo-
rate that; we’ll put a little bit of a different twist on it. You know, we’ll have blinking
red lights instead of blue lights, but we’re going to use that methodology somehow.
(Instructor interview, Course D)
In the other course, synthesis had a signiﬁcant role because the instructor asked students to
merge characteristics of multiple ideas together. As a learning plan, the instructor had student
teams submit their ideas on a wiki so everyone could see the ideas. They then spent time in
class synthesizing those ideas, guided by the instructor.
Many courses also included learning plans related to reorganizing or redeﬁning, in terms of
iteration and redeﬁning ideas, even in the two nondesign courses. Check-in points, feedback
sessions, critique, and prototyping were common in the learning plans related to iteration.
Many types of learning plans had students engage in evaluation in multiple contexts, such as
gaining the ability to develop metrics and use the outcomes to evaluate choices and then make
decisions, building prototypes to evaluate if targeted functions were successful, evaluating their
own ideas and those of their classmates, and designing reviews. Students engaged in evaluation
activities that required them to specify the value of an idea by generating evidence to show
that an idea would be a better competitor than other potential ideas or existing products:
The course was also ... coming up with a model to prove that your product would
beat competitors so ... how do you figure out analytically whether your product is
better than another product? It essentially comes down to weights of different attrib-
utes. (Student interview, Course B)
Only one course speciﬁed an explicit learning plan to resolve ambiguity in problem solving.
Assessment evidence In the design courses, assessing students’ analysis skills was often
tied to their own evaluation of the feasibility of their designs and justiﬁcation of choices.
Written reports and oral presentations were required, but there were no explicit evaluations
in the grading rubrics for these analytical reports. In the two nondesign courses, homework
problems and laboratory reports played a similar role.
Only one course included assessment evidence related to synthesis. In Course A, a
project-based course, an instructor speciﬁcally noted students would be assessed for their
projects’ form as it relates to its function:
Design Criteria: How was your team able to synthesize the form, function and behav-
ior of the surface? (Syllabus, Course A)
Synthesis was an expressed criterion for assessment, but how success in synthesis was equated
with speciﬁc scores was unclear from the materials.
430 Daly, Mosyjowski, & Seifert
Assessment evidence of students’ ability to reorganize and reﬁne (iterate) occurred
through periodic reports or presentations of design ideas. Students were expected to present
an updated version of their idea based on additional information gathered, feedback received,
and data collected from tests of their prototypes. Grading rubrics for project milestones listed
aspects of iteration as components that composed the ﬁnal grade. In many classes, project
requirements speciﬁed that students build multiple prototypes during the course.
Assessment evidence of students’ ability to evaluate ideas was implied in assignments in all of
the courses that required students to evaluate their own and others’ work. However, there was
no mention of speciﬁc assessment criteria for the content of students’ evaluation. Additional
data for the indicators in the Digging Deeper into Ideas category are given in the appendix.
Openness and Courage to Explore Ideas
This category includes characteristics related to exploration of problems and solutions.
Learning to go beyond the immediate impression to investigate conﬂicting ideas, continuing
through repeated attempts, and responding to failure are important in creative endeavors
(Trefﬁnger et al., 2002).
Desired results All of the instructors expressed desired results for students related to at
least one skill in Openness and Courage to Explore Ideas. The notion of problem sensitivity
is related to “problem ﬁnding,” where one identiﬁes speciﬁc problems to solve (Getzels,
1975, p. 13). This was mentioned as a goal in all the courses studied. Some instructors
expressed a desire for their students to develop problem identiﬁcation strategies as a starting
point for their design work, while others speciﬁcally emphasized the ability to identify valua-
ble problems, not necessarily within expected constraints:
The thing is, you know, we say, “well okay, that’s what you can work on,” and then
there’s the high-value problem. So what’s the highest value problem for your team?
And that might not be the most complex thing. It might not be the most beneficial
thing. (Instructor interview, Course A)
Very few engineering instructors mentioned desired results related to aesthetic sensitivity.
In one computer game design course, the instructor explained students had the option of
adding art to their projects; however, he did not explicitly identify aesthetic sensitivity as a
goal, or as something he actively tried to facilitate through instruction. Similarly, fantasy and
imagination may seem, on the surface, far from the realm of engineering, yet creativity may
require identifying possibilities that are currently impossible or not yet experienced. In sev-
eral classes, instructors speciﬁcally expressed desired results in terms of students’ ability to
play and explore things that interested them, regardless of practical considerations.
Many of the engineering instructors expressed desired results of students’ development of tol-
erance for ambiguity, or comfort with exploring new, ill-deﬁned ideas as a result of their experi-
ences. Several engineering instructors explained that, unlike other engineering courses in which
answers are known or knowable, it was their goal to help students learn by exploring topics where
little was known or deﬁned. Several instructors acknowledged that students are often at least ini-
tially uncomfortable with exploring the unknown. One instructor asserted that promoting dis-
comfort was his goal, and that he saw discomfort as a sign of students’ growth in creativity:
I think I want them to feel uncomfortable, and if they are feeling very uncomfortable,
it’s because they are doing something new and, I think, exploring new areas that they
would not do outside this course. (Instructor interview, Course C)
Teaching Creativity in Engineering Courses 431
Intuition is an internal sense of direction based on accumulated experience that is often
difﬁcult to describe in rational terms (Klein, 1998, 2003). Knowing when to follow intuition
is likely a difﬁcult skill to teach; however, several instructors described their desired result in
terms of developing their students’ intuition through knowledge of the ﬁeld and helping stu-
dents internalize their understanding of how to approach challenges.
Learning plans All of the courses included learning plans meant to develop students’ skills
related to Openness and Courage to Explore Ideas. There were many learning plans intended
to help students gain greater problem sensitivity. In some design courses, instructors introduced
students to potential stakeholders so they could learn more about their target users. The cus-
tomer orientation surfaced frequently in interviews with instructors:
I do in a very organized way, using this axiomatic design process. That first goal for
the students is to ... find out what the potential customers are, who they are. And
then to interview them to try to find out what the project is about and then have a
formal list of requirements, and then one stage initially is just a more qualitative list of
requirements, and then to quantify those, and then go into what are the functions that
they have to implement to satisfy the customers. (Instructor interview, Course C)
Several courses also included learning plans related to students’ capacity for fantasy and
imagination. Instructors reported addressing capacity for imagination in their learning plans
through encouraging students to explore topics that interested them, and by doing what
they could to facilitate exploration:
So by creating the opportunity, funding the projects, you, know, get leverage in them,
access to the facilities, you know? This being a special type of experience and there’s
also a skunk works phenomena, you know. Then I think it helps them invest to a cer-
tain point. (Instructor interview, Course A)
Learning plans focused on tolerance for ambiguity presented students with opportunities to
explore undeﬁned problems, or problems where the solution was not previously determined.
Assessment evidence There was very little explicit assessment evidence related to stu-
dents’ exploring new concepts and ideas in the courses studied. One course (Course A)
included an assessment of aesthetic success in the ﬁnal product. Additional data for the indi-
cators in the Openness and Courage to Explore Ideas category are included in the appendix.
Listening to One’sInner Voice
The ability to reﬂect on the course of one’s efforts and make corrections or consider new steps
is a key to developing creative skills. The characteristics that compose the Listening to One’s
Inner Voice category (Trefﬁnger et al., 2002) were combined in the analysis to include both
reﬂection and awareness of one’s own creative process. Metacognition is deﬁned as “reﬂective
thinking” to capture this self-knowledge of cognitive processes (Flavell, 1979, p. 908).
Desired results Although many instructors described learning plans intended to facilitate
students’ metacognition about their work and their own creative processes, very few expressed
desired results in these terms. One instructor described his intentional approach to teaching
students about creativity as a way to make students conscious of their own creative process:
I have a main creativity lecture mostly to get them to think about it in a conscious
way. (Instructor interview, Course B)
432 Daly, Mosyjowski, & Seifert
Learning plans Instruction and course activities related to metacognition varied greatly.
In one course, the instructor felt that simply making it known that a creative outcome was
required would force students to explore their own creative abilities. In several design
courses, learning plans on metacognition involved written assignments such as course blogs
or a paper requiring students to reﬂect on their work, design approaches, and interests. One
instructor asked students to identify their own biases and how they may affect their work:
We do draw comparisons between whether something is potentially easier to do or
something that’s potentially more robust or more accurate. We do ... spend a lot of
time thinking about where our bias is in the sort of measurements that we actually do
generate. (Instructor interview, Course F)
In another course, the instructor had students perform self-awareness exercises and take a
behavioral assessment in order to get a better understanding of their own interests and work
styles. The instructor identiﬁed these reﬂective exercises as a way to facilitate better team-
work, which is frequently a critical part of the creative design process in engineering:
Midway through the year, I do a self-awareness exercise which is basically using the
DiSC analysis, which is a behavioral assessment, and the idea is, the DiSC assessment
basically tells you a little bit about who you are and your behavioral preferences when
you are working in teams. [...] The idea is, if you understand what your behavioral lan-
guage is, and you understand that of your partner or your teammates, then you might
be more likely to communicate with them better. (Instructor interview, Course E)
Assessment evidence Although there was a signiﬁcant amount of student work related
to metacognition, little assessment evidence was evident in the data. In two courses, students
were required to keep blogs, and in one, the instructor explained that one grading criterion
was reﬂection. Otherwise, there was no explicit mention of assessment as it related to meta-
cognition in the data. Additional data for the indicators in the Listening to One’s Inner
Voice category are included in the appendix.
The detailed analysis in the previous section described observations about creative pedagogy
as reﬂected in these existing engineering courses. In this section, we turn to the gaps in the
categories from the analysis where no evidence was observed. Then, we discuss ways to
increase opportunities for the development of students’ creative skills in engineering. Finally,
we address the study’s limitations and directions for future work.
What IsMissing in the Findings
Our ﬁndings revealed that the pedagogy for many of the courses included convergent think-
ing skills such as analyzing, reorganizing, and evaluating. The results also highlight some
gaps in creative skills instruction in engineering courses. Of course, other courses not
included in our sample may address these gaps; however, because the instructors of the
sampled courses cited fostering creativity as a goal, the absence of data in some areas of crea-
tive skills is informative. At the least, the gaps suggest areas where engineering curricula
could be further developed.
While convergent skills were most often addressed in all of the courses, one Digging
Deeper into Ideas skill, seeing relationships, was not evident in the desired results, learning
Teaching Creativity in Engineering Courses 433
plan, or assessment evidence in any of the courses. In the Generating Ideas category, the
processes of elaboration and metaphorical thinking were rarely emphasized. Many skills in
the category Openness and Courage to Explore Ideas were also not addressed across the
courses; for instance, developing intuition and a tolerance for ambiguity are important skills
within creative activities, because they most often involve risk taking and decision making
under uncertainty. Arguably, aesthetic sensitivity is important for the tangible artifacts cre-
ated by engineers, and its rare appearance in the data suggests more awareness and integra-
tion of aesthetics along with technical engineering content is possible.
Another gap across the dataset was the lack of assessments offered for many of the crea-
tive skills, including divergent thinking skills in most of the courses, and also for the skills in
the Openness and Courage to Explore Ideas category. For example, originality was rarely
explicitly assessed in any of the courses. This result is especially interesting because originali-
ty is a critical component of most operational deﬁnitions of creativity. Four instructors
emphasized the idea of originality in their desired results, but only two of their courses had
speciﬁc learning plans related to it, and only one course included an assessment.
The analysis also revealed a lack of alignment in the desired results, learning plans, and
assessment evidence for many of the creative skills (Wiggins & McTighe, 2005). Many
times, there was clear evidence for one or two of the course building blocks from the back-
ward design framework but no evidence of the third building block. While most often the
missing piece was assessment, there were cases where no alignment occurred because of a
lack of a clear learning goal or learning plan to address the creativity skill.
Implications for Pedagogy
Instructors could better support their students’ development of creative skills by communicat-
ing clear learning goals in their courses. As best practices in instructional design would suggest
(Wiggins & McTighe, 2005), these speciﬁc creative goals should be carefully aligned with
learning plans and appropriate assessments to provide a more complete learning experience.
Also, instructors could incorporate more assessments of speciﬁc creative skills and provide
feedback to their students on improving these skills. Assessing creativity is not straightfor-
ward, but by breaking creativity into its component skills (Trefﬁnger et al., 2002), assess-
ments can be developed or adapted from existing assessments (e.g., Charyton & Merril,
2009; Guildford, 1959; Kaufman, Plucker, & Baer, 2008; O’Quin & Besemer, 1989; Shah,
Vargas-Hernandez, & Smith, 2003; Torrance, 1974, 1981). For example, rubrics could be
developed to evaluate students’ levels of openness, actions taken to explore ideas, and depth
of reﬂection. Because assessments play an important role in students’ motivation to learn,
omitting creative skill assessments from courses may limit the effect of instruction that does
occur. Students may interpret a lack of assessment as an indicator of its lack of importance.
Omitting assessment also limits instructors by preventing them from recognizing areas
where students could beneﬁt from additional support and development. One direction for
assessment is to address speciﬁc learning about the creative process itself, rather than solely
focusing on the speciﬁc project outcome. Students’ explicit knowledge of cognitive indicators
of creativity and self-awareness of the use of creative skills can be assessed, and would help
to focus students’ attention on these learning goals.
In addition to incorporating assessments of speciﬁc creativity indicators, this study revealed
opportunities for improvements in instruction related to creative skills. In practice, instructors
may rely on open-ended projects to provide opportunities for creativity. While project-based
learning has been shown to be an effective pedagogy to support student engagement (Prince,
434 Daly, Mosyjowski, & Seifert
2004; Smith, Sheppard, Johnson, & Johnson, 2005), without explicit course design elements
related to creative skills within these projects, this project-based approach may not actually
improve creativity. In other words, an opportunity to be creative through an open-ended pro-
ject is not equivalent to careful planning of speciﬁc desired results, learning plans, and assess-
ment evidence of the creative skills to be developed.
Incorporating occasions for the development of students’ creative skills throughout engi-
neering curricula does not require an instructor to incorporate an open-ended project. Instead,
an instructor can focus on one or more speciﬁc creative skill (guided by Trefﬁnger et al.’s
framework) and connect the goals, instruction, and assessments within the existing course
material. Felder (1985, 1987, 1988) described multiple ways he incorporated creative skills in
the technical engineering courses he taught, for example, by including a homework question
in which students had to suggest multiple ways a technical problem could be approached,
thus providing practice and assessment in divergent thinking skills. Crismond and Adams’s
(2012) work provides multiple examples of classroom instruction to support both divergent
and convergent thinking throughout design processes. Fogler and LeBlanc’s (2013) textbook
also describes many strategies to support students in creative problem solving.
We suggest additional ways to incorporate creative skill development in engineering courses.
Generating Ideas More attention could be given to instruction on originality, elabora-
tion, and metaphorical thinking. Instruction related to originality could make use of practice
with various ideation tools, e.g., Design Heuristics (Daly, Yilmaz, Christian, Seifert, &
Gonzalez, 2012a, 2012b; Design Heuristics, 2012; Yilmaz & Seifert, 2011), morphological
analysis (Allen, 1962; Zwicky, 1969), and SCAMPER (Eberle, 1995; Osborn, 1953).
Instruction might include having students rate the originality of existing approaches or arti-
facts. An approach in art history is to examine a set of well-known exemplars to provide stu-
dents with a sense of the scope of the ﬁeld (Eﬂand, 1990). Additionally, students could
compare their own ideas to a pool of ideas gathered from the class as a whole; or they could
be asked to generate ideas over a period of time and compare the originality of their early
ideas to their later ideas. These methods could help students develop an awareness of the
diversity of possible solutions. To develop elaboration skills, instructors could have students
engage in a group ideation session where each person in the group adds an additional detail
to a target concept. To support metaphorical thinking, Smith and Linsey (2011) propose
ways to help students use analogies to specify the functions of a product (e.g., a design arti-
fact) or process (e.g., a way to measure something, a procedure for solving a complex prob-
lem), and re-represent these functions with similar words. Such methods help students learn
to create analogies back to their original task. Developing metaphorical thinking may require
speciﬁc practice in the classroom with multiple examples (McKeogh et al., 1985).
Digging Deeper into Ideas Synthesizing and seeing relationships were two key skills
not explicitly taught or practiced. An improvement of these skills through instruction could
include having students compare and contrast multiple concepts, identify the best features of
multiple ideas, and suggest ways to use these best features to develop new and improved
ideas, rather than selecting just one idea with which to move forward. Performing an analysis
of a range of exemplars, such as types of products, would allow students to see relationships
Openness to Explore Ideas Instruction related to aesthetic sensitivity could include giv-
ing examples of product aesthetics and data about their impact on adoption and marketabili-
ty. Students could also be asked to gather aesthetic data on their own prototypes. Instruction
on intuition could include giving students exposure to a large body of existing approaches,
Teaching Creativity in Engineering Courses 435
products, and processes, thus helping students develop an implicit understanding of the vari-
ety of possibilities within a given domain. The accumulation of a corpus of past solutions
could serve as a basis for intuition on future projects.
Listening to One’s Inner Voice A practice common in artistic and literary ﬁelds is to
keep a journal record of thinking as a project unfolds. Writing exercises appeared to be less
common in engineering classes, yet may serve as a method to encourage reﬂection about the
creative process. Another method is to build in speciﬁc moments of reﬂection into the proj-
ect process, when the group might meet speciﬁcally to discuss what has occurred during the
development process. Alternatively, instructors might propose that students try a task by
approaching it in different ways and reﬂecting on how those approaches affected their out-
comes (Daly, Adams, & Bodner, 2012). By focusing attention on choices made and the work-
ﬂow during a project, the opportunity to make alternative choices in the future, or to recognize
the need to do so, may become more apparent to students.
All of these learning activities provide an opportunity for instructors to use best practices
in engineering education (e.g., Prince, 2004; Smith et al., 2005). For example, having stu-
dents take ﬁve minutes in class to see how many different ideas they can generate for solving
a problem provides an occasion for students to engage in active learning. Asking students to
compare their approaches with each other makes use of group work. By considering learning
activities to address a speciﬁc creative skill, instructors may more clearly see opportunities to
build these into their course sessions and to facilitate student engagement.
Implications of this research include the provision of a common ground for deﬁnitions of
creative skills along with which skills engineering programs should aim to develop in students.
Perhaps some of the inconsistency in how courses implement training in creativity follows
from instructors who have different ideas of what creativity means and how it can be assessed.
For some engineering educators, creativity may remain an implicit process observed within an
outcome, and not a cognitive skill that can be developed. Trefﬁnger et al.’s (2002) framework is
a starting place for discussions on the role of creativity instruction in engineering courses.
While a single course may not be able to incorporate all of the creative skills, or even all
four categories of skills in this analysis, more careful program-level planning could add crea-
tive skills over time. By including goals, instruction, and assessment components for creative
skills in courses, creative skills can be improved. As with all cognitive skills, considerable
deliberate and intentional practice in creative skills may be required for students to reach the
highest levels of expertise (Ericsson, Krampe, & Tesch-R€omer, 1993).
Study Limitations and Future Work
We aimed to identify evidence of creativity pedagogy in a sample of engineering courses identi-
ﬁed as exemplars of creativity education within the college. The study was not intended to evalu-
ate the quality of the courses nor to assess students’ creative outcomes as a result of taking the
courses. Each course had a different teaching approach, but the collection of courses allowed
some conclusions about the opportunities they offered for students’ development of creative skills.
The present study did not, though, examine the effect of different forms of pedagogical
approaches on students’ actual development of creative skills.
The structure provided by the backward design model (Wiggins & McTighe, 2005) could
be a useful tool for designing creative skill pedagogies that align desired results, learning
plans, and assessment evidence. For many of the creative skills in the study, instructors
reported only one or two of the three components of course design, and careful attention to
including all three components for each skill could have a signiﬁcant positive effect on
436 Daly, Mosyjowski, & Seifert
students’ depth of learning. Further work is needed to identify speciﬁcally how to support
educators in improving the interrelationships between these three course building blocks.
Evidence in our study was limited to course materials, interviews with instructors and stu-
dents, and a written survey of students; as a consequence, these courses may include instruc-
tion on creative skills that were not captured in our ﬁndings. Other courses in engineering
not in our sample may include alternative methods to support creative skill development. Our
systematic description of these courses provides a substantial amount of evidence, and allows
some important conclusions about ways to improve creative skills in engineering education.
For future work, we hope to use this case study as a foundation for a broader understanding
of creative skills instruction. We suggest that examining pedagogy across disciplines may identify
alternative methods that may prove practical in theengineering classroom and other settings.
The case study presented here has demonstrated the existence and nature of pedagogical efforts
to develop students’ creative skills within engineering courses. Our ﬁndings indicate that aspects
of creative skill development are often missing from even exemplary engineering courses, and
suggest that other courses are also likely failing to provide opportunities for students to develop
their creative skills. While convergent thinking was well represented in engineering courses,
divergent thinking skills require the development of further instructional techniques. Another
area of potential pedagogical development is encouraging students to become open to explor-
ing, rather than solving, problems. Methods to encourage students to embrace ambiguity, avoid
premature closure, and increase reﬂection may greatly improve their creative skills. Developing
assessments that will motivate students to improve their creative skills and increase awareness
of their personal creative process is a key need in engineering pedagogy.
We are thankful to the following research assistants who helped with data analysis on this
project: Amber Bellazaire, Christopher Johnson, Katie Korinek, Carly Sheridan, Emily
Williams, and Tyler Zimmerman. Sam Goodman assisted with the data collection efforts on
the project. We are grateful for project funding provided by the Ofﬁce of the Vice Provost
for Research, the School of Education, the College of Literature, Science, and Arts, the
Department of Psychology, and the College of Engineering. We also thank James Holloway,
Marvin Parnes, Theresa Reid, Crisca Bierwert, and Aileen Huang-Saad for their help in ini-
tiating this project.
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Erika Mosyjowski is a research assistant in the College of Engineering, University of
Michigan, 210 Gorguze Family Laboratories, Ann Arbor, MI, 48109; firstname.lastname@example.org.
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442 Daly, Mosyjowski, & Seifert
This appendix provides additional transcript, survey, and course material excerpts to allow
readers to see examples of how instructors and students discuss aspects of creativity. The pre-
sentation of evidence follows the organization of materials in Table 2.
We want to see you actively and thoughtfully explore many ideas, as opposed to per-
fectly polishing just one. (Instructor syllabus, Course A, Desired Results)
[The instructor said] I want you guys to quickly come up, within 5 minutes, come up
with 20 ideas to address this and so [I] just started throwing out anything, regardless
of how ridiculous it sounded. Because if you wanted 20, the first 5 or 6 seem feasible
but after that you just have to ... throw out whatever, so that kind of helped I guess
make you think more outside the box. (Student interview, Course B, Learning Plan)
One or more sections should address the following: Several conceptual solutions are
described and evaluated relative to the stated objectives. (Course assignment, Course
B, Assessment Evidence)
Because I’m asking them to now take the math that they’ve learned and begin seeing
the world, the engineering world, through that math ... I need them to be able to see
how do you take these ideas and put them back into their device world. (Instructor
interview, Course G, Desired Results)
The fact that there are multiple ways to measure something similar suggests that there
isn’t one way to do things ... I’m not exclusionary, meaning that I don’t ever come up
and say well these are the only ways that you can measure this and forget about trying
to do it some different sort of way. (Instructor interview, Course F, Learning Plan)
The reverse brainstorming ... you aren’t always given a problem to solve. A lot of
engineers are given problems and are expected to solve them but in a truly creative
and innovative process you would have to be coming up with a problem yourself and
identifying high-value problems. (Student interview, Course A, Learning Plan)
So my group ended up consisting of a music major, one guy who does sound engi-
neering right now, one person who’s in business, and one other mechanical engineer
who isn’t traditional, she’s doing systems engineering and so if you’re stuck with engi-
neers it’s fine but it’s, you’re kind of in one mindset, which I never really realized until
I had the group around me and how they thought about ideas and they approached
things was different and that I think really boosted my creative process. (Student
interview, Course B, Learning Plan)
I would say when they [are able to] come up with a solution that has never been
thought of before, a new solution to the maybe sometimes an old problem. (Instructor
interview, Course C, Desired Results)
It’s really open ended so that’s really important to think about the whole design pro-
cess starting with trying to discover what is really your task and taking the time, not
Teaching Creativity in Engineering Courses 443
rushing, really spending the time necessary to understand the project. [My approach
is] I think hands off, trying to understand the reasoning behind the students’ idea for
a solution ... not trying to give them solutions, just guiding them a little but to some-
times see things that they are not seeing, or talking to the right people, or doing the
right calculation. (Instructor Interview, Course C, Learning Plan)
It would probably be the open-ended nature of it. So I don’t exactly teach them a
framework and I go back and forth on whether or not a framework is a better thing or
not. What I do is seed every piece of what they do. So I seed them...the idea is that
it has to encourage them to go do a significant amount of work outside. And every
year I have no idea if they’re going to do it, right? It could be a total dud. (Instructor
Interview, Course E, Learning Plan)
The laboratory class has sometimes included an open-ended laboratory investigation
of students picking. So it’s pretty free form and I don’t want to put a lot of constraints
on it. (Instructor Interview, Course F, Learning Plan)
I bring in eight to ten physicians, and the physicians actually present to the students
what the clinical challenges are that they meet on a daily basis, what the limitations of
those challenges are. We have the physicians come in and talk to the students. Then
the students shadow the physicians. (Instructor interview, Course E, Learning Plan)
Whenever they see a circuit I’d like to have them see the underlying input/output rela-
tionships between what signals might be doing before they go through that circuit and
what they’re going to be doing when they come out. I would then also like them to be
able to see that same input/output relationship could be explained using mechanical
components, using chemical components, using economic components, using social
psych components, using whatever. (Instructor interview, Course G, Desired Results)
Students always love taboo sorts of things so I was telling at least one or two different
groups of how you could actually design an alcohol sensorby buildinga component in and
you could actually measure fermentation, if something were actually fermenting over time.
You could actually come up with an electronic sensor or an electronic nose that would tell
you when the beer or wine was done, an alternative breathalyzer. You know if you could
do that you could also do a breathalyzer. (Instructor interview, Course F, Learning Plan)
Digging Deeper intoIdeas
[The instructor] talked about how to do the analysis and why there were differences
in products ... he really talked about that, and making you understand about all the
products that are around you, why they are designed the way they are. Before I kind
of designed blindly and I just looked at products and said, okay this one seems better
than this. Or I didn’t really look at competitive products, but to actually come up with
a product and it to work in the marketplace, understanding how to compare which
product is better, analytically come up with a number, that was important for me.
(Student interview, Course B, Desired Results)
Literally the idea of putting boxes around things and understanding what is important
to pay attention to and what they can ignore. Doing a figure ground at a problem
444 Daly, Mosyjowski, & Seifert
solving level, I think is extremely important in helping these creativity skills along.
(Instructor interview, Course G, Desired Results)
Writing a proposal really made me think on what my idea was, and analyze. Every
aspect of it. It is crucial that your creative ideas can become real. (Student survey,
Course D, Learning Plan)
What happens when your modulus value for mechanical behavior for one example is
one tenth out of everybody else’s and why is it? One reason is you didn’t do the
experiment correctly, one reason is that you’re analyzing something incorrectly, one
reason is you measured the wrong things, all three probably happen throughout the
course but you know we try not to necessarily emphasize so much of that. The point
is, hey, you got that wrong, let’s figure out why we’re getting it wrong and for those
groups who did poorly on this particular piece we’re going to actually reanalyze it col-
lectively in front of the group. (Instructor interview, Course F, Learning Plan)
Creative process is an iterative process of integrating knowledge from various sources
and prototyping solutions to generate a creative output. (Student survey, Course E,
There were four different teams in the class and each team compiled all their ideas on
a wiki so we combined our ideas on the board as well as the ideas from wiki. (Instruc-
tor interview, Course E, Learning Plan)
The assessment criteria to measure a team’s achievement will be based on the follow-
ing: How well the team is judged to integrate the capacities of the multidisciplinary
team members. How well the design criteria developed early in the course are synthe-
sized for defining the project and its goals (Syllabus, Course A, Assessment Evidence)
Reorganizing or Redeﬁning
The value of iteration, that was really hit hard on. The realization that problems don’t
always come first, the value of just playing with things, and as long as you’re playing
and critically thinking about what you’re doing then that can be a valuable approach.
(Student interview, Course A, Desired Results)
Every module that we have requires them to rethink their assumptions that they made
upfront and decide if they are still valid relative to the new aspect of design that they
need to consider. Or they just have to sacrifice that aspect. (Instructor interview,
Course B, Learning Plan)
They continue to make use of the same sort of general programming scheme, but each
program is required to operate somewhat different. So they have to keep going back
and updating what they have. The thought is that being able to go back and hopefully
generate some comfort and familiarity with the fact that, I don’t need to generate a
brand new program, I can make use of a code that’s already been developed. (Instruc-
tor interview, Course F, Learning Plan)
Experiment with media, materials, techniques and processes (hack and tinker); Com-
mitment to a thorough investigation of design ideas via iterative research, drawings,
calculations/modeling/models. (Syllabus, Course A, Assessment Evidence)
Teaching Creativity in Engineering Courses 445
Our students who are working in those particular realms need to be more observant
as to how to be able to execute their own testing protocols in the absence of having
a sort of large support structure around them. I think that’s the biggest paradigm
shift that I’ve observed over the last ten or twelve years. So as a result, our students
need to be more equipped to be able to develop their own protocols, how to charac-
terize, how to test something, how to evaluate something in some other way.
(Instructor interview, Course F, Desired Results)
The course was also coming up with a model to prove that your product would beat
competitors so ... how do you figure out analytically whether your product is better
than another product? It essentially comes down to weights of different attributes.
(Student interview, Course B, Learning Plan)
You have to have your major design ideas at one point and turn them in and evaluate
which one’s best. You take that one design and you test it and simulate it and all of
that to make sure it’s going to work. And the last step is actually presenting the final
piece. And then at the very end of the semester you turn in a paper like about further
work or what you would do different. (Student interview, Course C, Learning Plan)
What they do in these design reviews, everybody’s required to give a presentation,
everyone’s required to give feedback and the students have two ways of giving feed-
back: you can either do it in writing or you can do it verbally. And I tell them, it’s not
like you have to ask some kind of ground-breaking question to your colleague. But
you have to ask something that demonstrates that you’ve been cerebral through this
whole presentation right? Because I’m trying to teach them to actually engage and to
really be a part of this. (Instructor interview, Course E, Learning Plan)
No examples were observed in the data for this indicator.
Desiring to Resolve Ambiguity
I think that’s a goal, I mean, how do you create a situation where rather than being
purely theoretical or being based solely on explicit knowledge, you create some tacit
knowledge and understanding of situations so that when they find themselves having to
work with people they don’t understand completely or where they are coming from and
they have to negotiate basically they have some strategies and some ability to resolve
those things and continue work. (Instructor interview, Course A, Desired Results)
An organized way of thinking and attacking new problems and if and when you are
feeling uncomfortable you can really get organized enough to really solve the problem.
(Instructor interview, Course C, Desired Results)
Yeah, I point to ways of doing simple calculations that would tell them if that’s a
good way to approach the problem, or not. Like scaling you know if you’re that’s my
favorite thing. You have a problem, you have no clue what the solution is, but you just
start thinking about how the physical process involved, listing all the parameters and
then trying to come up with simple scaling laws that helps guide you to the solution.
(Instructor interview, Course C, Learning Plan)
446 Daly, Mosyjowski, & Seifert
Openness and Courage to Explore Ideas
We say, “Well okay, that’s what you can work on,” and then there’s the high value
problem. So what’s the highest value problem for your team? And that might not be
the most complex thing, it might not be the most beneficial thing. (Instructor inter-
view, Course A, Desired Results)
I want them to be able to walk into a situation that involves people from all walks
a problem that is being put on the table starting from “Is this a problem? Why
is this a problem?” and proceeding from there all the way to finding solutions,
or alternative designs, concepts, that will work. (Instructor interview, Course B,
If the students walk away actually having learned something about how to actually for-
mulate a problem, digest it into observable enough pieces so there’s sort of continued
progression on the project. (Instructor interview, Course F, Desired Results)
So all of the games I’m building are for [Name] Hospital. And that’s why when I gave
the introduction and sent the proposals, some of the people there were from [the hos-
pital]. And they came over just ’cause they know better the different disability levels.
(Instructor interview, Course D, Learning Plan)
The reverse brainstorming, you aren’t always given a problem to solve. A lot of engi-
neers are given problems and are expected to solve them, but in a truly creative and
innovative process you would have to be coming up with a problem yourself and iden-
tifying high-value problems. (Student 2 interview, Course A, Learning Plan)
They really need to have, I mean, generally students who do have some kind of right-
brain skills in terms of artistic skills that they know how to bring art to this game, rather
than, here’s an outline of Illinois, what’s the state capitol? That they can bring some-
thing interesting- artistically interesting – whether background, foreground, other
things ... and you can tell looking at these where the students have had you know
some strong graphics background. (Instructor interview, Course D)
Design Criteria: How was your team able to synthesize the form, function and behav-
ior of the surface? (Syllabus, Course A, Assessment Evidence)
Fantasy and Imagination
They wanted to teach us the value of iteration in building. For example [Name] would
always say, he would always encourage us to play, and I don’t think he really meant
play like run and throw a ball around, I think he really meant find it fun to do what-
ever you’re doing and toy around with whatever this is and don’t be afraid to drop it
and then try something else. (Student 2 interview, Course A, Desired Results)
By creating the opportunity, funding the projects, you know, get leverage in them
access to the facilities, you know? This being a special type of experience and there’s
also a skunk works phenomena, you know. Then I think it helps them invest to a cer-
tain point. (Instructor interview, Course A, Learning Plan)
Teaching Creativity in Engineering Courses 447
It’s a huge amount of buy-in. They have to see this as a two way street. It’s not some-
thing that I’m imparting on them, they are part of that creation. So if they are creating
their class and they’re creating their project, then they’re much more likely to be
engaged. (Instructor interview, Course E, Learning Plan)
Tolerance for Ambiguity
do, they are being given puzzles. Someone already knows the answer; whereas what
we are doing is we are giving them problems we don’t know the answer. We are in
the exact same boat or position that they are and we’re upfront about that. One of
the most powerful things you can say is “I don’t know” because that gives you a
position from which to begin a process of inquiry. (Instructor interview, Course A,
I’m more than comfortable to not have the answer and I think that’s where students
start recognizing a change in focus. It’s nice when the answers are always in the back
of the book, like there’s always an answer and the faculty is the oracle. And it’s inter-
esting when the data doesn’t necessarily match up with what the book value is. And
the question is why doesn’t it match up? And I’ve heard lots of rationale as a reason-
ing, most of it not right but, you know, it’s surprising to sort of recognize the students
are immediately uncomfortable when suddenly the book isn’t necessarily all telling.
We don’t necessarily want to tell people it’s not worth measuring anything because it’s
too hard to do it. I mean it’s not necessarily what we want people to walk away with.
But we would like people, our graduates, to sort of walk away with a comprehensive
appreciation for what we’re actually trying to do, how we’re actually trying to measure
something. They start seeing inklings of the fact that one of the reasons that engineers
are being hired effectively as valued higher organizations is solving problems that
aren’t known. (Instructor interview, Course F, Desired Results)
I want them to feel uncomfortable, and if they are feeling very uncomfortable it’s
because they are doing something new and I think exploring new areas that they
would not do outside this course. (Instructor interview, Course C, Desired Results)
So in a sense, they have to try and work out what it is they are doing within a very
ambiguous and fluid set of constraints. You know, I mean, yes, that is creative.
(Instructor interview, Course A, Learning Plan)
We honestly don’t know what’s going to work in the end ...and really testing is what
helps us design what we need to design because we don’t know until we do it. (Stu-
dent interview, Course C, Learning Plan)
They can solve a problem that they never thought they would be able to and then
they get the confidence to go out in the industry and attack a new problem and come
up with a different solution. (Instructor interview, Course C, Desired Results)
I would like them to be able to feel like they’re equipped to be able to develop their
own test as necessary. I would like them to be comfortable with working in the lab
group environment, such that when presented with some other open-ended question
448 Daly, Mosyjowski, & Seifert
they know what kind of tools may be available for them to be sort of ultimate tests to
probe, perturb, their system in some sort of other effective way (Interview, Course F,
Integration of Dichotomies of Opposites
No examples were observed in the data for this indicator.
Listening to One’sInner Voice
I have a main creativity lecture mostly to get them to think about it in a conscious
way. (Instructor interview, Course B, Desired Results)
I think it’s just that relentless accumulation of requirements: “You have to do this, you
have to do this, you have to do this. Yes I understand you are not going to do it per-
fectly, but you have to do it.” And just not leaving any way out for them to say no I
cannot do it, except if they can argue successfully that they don’t need to do it.
(Instructor interview, Course B, Learning Plan)
And then at the very end of the semester you turn in a paper like about further work
or what you would do different. (Student interview, Course C, Learning Plan)
Each team member is required to maintain an online course blog describing the intent
and progression of their work. (Syllabus, Course A, Learning Plan)
I do think that we do draw comparisons between whether something is potentially easier
to do or something that’s potentially more robust or more accurate but we don’t necessar-
ily – we do sort of spend a lot of time thinking about where our bias is in the sort of meas-
urements that we actually do generate. (Instructor interview, Course F, Learning Plan)
Reflection. Also, I mean, so statements like the engineer who’s going “Why do I need
an engineering degree?” We look for that kind of stuff. (Instructor interview, Course
A, Assessment Evidence)
Teaching Creativity in Engineering Courses 449