Teaching Students to be Innovators: Examining Competencies and Approaches Across Disciplines

Article (PDF Available)inInternational Journal of Innovation Science 4(3):143-154 · September 2012with 212 Reads
DOI: 10.1260/1757-2223.4.3.143
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Abstract
Universities are increasingly promoting programs and courses that focus on innovation to prepare students across disciplines for work in a competitive global economy. Information about program outcomes, target competencies, or best practices is limited given their early stages of development. This exploratory study examined eight academic programs offering an educational credential focused on innovation available to students in a variety of majors. The analyses of program descriptions and curricular requirements provide an understanding of their structure, content, and value they propose to students. This paper explores what teaching innovation means at a program-level and identifies where a curriculum is situated along the spectrum of topics that characterize innovation education. The results can be useful in developing and articulating core competencies related to innovation and understanding approaches to teaching it.
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Volume 4 · Number 3 · September 2012
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Volume 4 · Number 3 · 2012
143
Teaching Students to be Innovators: Examining
Competencies and Approaches Across
Disciplines
Nathalie Duval-Couetil
1
, Michael Dyrenfurth
1
1
Purdue University, Department of Technology Leadership and Innovation West Lafayette,
IN 47906
natduval@purdue.edu, mdyrenfu@purdue.edu
ABSTRACT
Universities are increasingly promoting programs and courses that focus on innovation
to prepare students across disciplines for work in a competitive global economy.
Information about program outcomes, target competencies, or best practices is limited
given their early stages of development. This exploratory study examined eight academic
programs offering an educational credential focused on innovation available to students
in a variety of majors. The analyses of program descriptions and curricular requirements
provide an understanding of their structure, content, and value they propose to students.
This paper explores what teaching innovation means at a program-level and identifies
where a curriculum is situated along the spectrum of topics that characterize innovation
education. The results can be useful in developing and articulating core competencies
related to innovation and understanding approaches to teaching it.
1. INTRODUCTION
The United States led the world’s economies in the 20th century because we led the world in
innovation. Today, the competition is keener; the challenge is tougher; and that is why
innovation is more important than ever. It is the key to good, new jobs for the 21st century.
That’s how we will ensure a high quality of life for this generation and future generations. With
these investments, we’re planting the seeds of progress for our country, and good-paying,
private-sector jobs for the American people
(President of the United States, Barack Obama, 2009)
In an increasingly competitive and global economy, awareness of innovation’s role in organizational
performance and economic development takes on more prominence. The President of the United States
has stated, “To win the future, America needs to out-educate, out-innovate, and out-build the rest of the
world” and he points to accomplishments in the 20th century to make this point. The national agenda
outlined to accomplish this involves investing in research and development; investing in the human,
physical, and technological capital needed to perform research and transform education; creating an
environment ripe for entrepreneurship and risk taking that allows U.S. companies to grow and be
competitive globally; and investing in industry sectors of national importance [1].
As reflected in statements from political leaders, the ability of a country to innovate is considered
essential to the creation of jobs, profit, and standard of living. The topic of innovation is frequently
referred to within the context of organizations that “need to innovate in response to changing customer
demands and lifestyles and in order to capitalize on opportunities offered by technology, changing
marketplaces, structures, and dynamics” [2, p. 1323]. Innovation drives growth in established
companies as it is the origin of new products, features, processes, methods, efficiencies, and markets
that generate revenue and employment. It is the foundation for the launch of entrepreneurial ventures,
which have historically been among the most powerful generators of economic development [3].
Increasingly, innovation is also considered essential to the success and sustainability of social and non-
profit ventures [4].
Given the role universities play in developing human capital, there is growing interest in investing
in educational programs that emphasize innovation so that graduates are more inclined to generate
value for existing organizations or establish new ventures of their own. Academic programs offered at
state-funded institutions are increasingly being measured in terms of their contribution to job creation
and economic development due to the rising costs of higher education and demands for more
accountability. For example, in laying out his agenda for higher education reform, the governor of
Florida recently suggested that public funding should be directed at degree programs likely to produce
more jobs in fields like science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM), which he suggested would
produce more qualified employees than would programs in the humanities [5].
1.1 Defining Innovation
The definition of innovation is multifaceted. The economist and political scientist, Joseph Schumpeter,
defined innovation as the commercial or industrial application of something new – a new product,
process or method of production; a new market or sources of supply; a new form of commercial
business or financial organization [6]. The author Kimberly defined innovation as having three aspects:
innovation as a process; innovation as a discrete item including products, programs or services; and
innovation as an attribute of organizations [7, p. 108]. Innovation can also be linked to a mindset or
set of attributes of individuals which signal innovation capability and that can be learned [8].
Authors Baregheh, Rowley, & Sambrook found there was overlap in definitions of innovation across
disciplines, and set out to create a common one that would provide a better understanding of the notion
of innovation for diverse fields [2]. To do so, they analyzed 60 definitions and used content analysis to
identify terms used most commonly in them. These included: new (42 occurrences), product (33), idea
(21), service (21), process (21), organization, (15) development (12), and technology (11). They
identified six attributes of innovation that represent the flow of innovation which is reflected in their
definition: innovation is the multi-stage process whereby organizations transform ideas into
new/improved products, services, or processes, in order to advance, compete and differentiate
themselves successfully in their marketplace [2, p. 1334].
In his book about driving growth in existing companies, Tucker [9] describes the purpose of
innovation as creating new customer value and defines three types: (1) product innovation which leads
to the development of new products or services; (2) process innovation which results in improvements
to profits, productivity or job satisfaction; and (3) strategy innovation which includes everything that a
company does around a product or service to add value to the customer experience. He also outlines
three degrees of innovation - incremental, substantial and breakthrough – to describe the extent to which
an innovation creates value to a customer or growth to a company. Within the context of
entrepreneurship, Morris, Kuratko, and Schindehutte [10] created a framework to capture the range of
product, service, and process innovations which can form the basis for new business concepts (Table 1).
Table 1. Framework of Innovation Types (Morris et al., 2001)
New to the world product or service
New to the country and/or market product or service
New to the firm product or service line that at least one competitor is offering
Addition to a company’s product or service line
Product/Service improvement, revision, including application of new feature or option or change
New application of existing product or service, including application to a new market segment
Repositioning of an existing product or service
Process improvement that leads to customer value creation, productivity enhancement, and/or
cost reduction:
New administrative system or procedure
New production method
New marketing or sales approach
New customer support program
New distribution channel or method
New logistical approach
New financing method
–New pricing approach
New purchasing technique
New organizational form or structure
144 Teaching Students to be Innovators: Examining Competencies and
Approaches Across Disciplines
International Journal of Innovation Science
Given the growing use of the word innovation, one expert has said that it risks losing its meaning
by becoming a “buzzword.” The author of The Myths of Innovation, Scott Berkun, stated that the word
has been overused and warned people to stop [11]. His view was that Einstein, Ford, da Vinci, Picasso,
and Edison rarely said it and that people use it as a cop out for clear thinking. Berkun suggested using
more precise language instead, such as: “1) we want new ideas; 2) we want better ideas; 3) we want
big changes; and 4) we need to place big bets on new ideas, phrases which are more powerful and
specific than the i-word.” Berkun stated that companies should focus on creating “something really
good, that solves real problems, works reliably, is affordable, and is built by a happy, motivated, and
well rewarded staff.” His view was that if all those are taken care of, companies will outperform their
competitors and innovation will take care of itself.
According to some researchers, innovation has not gotten the scholarly cross-discipline attention it
deserves given its importance [12, 13]. Most of the literature on innovation has been published in the
social sciences within the fields of economics and management, where the focus has been largely on its
relevance, as well as, research about processes, methods, and routines that that help firms and teams to
innovate better and faster. In discussing the role of innovation in engineering education, the scholar
Osorio stated, “Paradoxically, while it is very relevant to understand how to manage innovations and
their effects, practitioners in the private and public sector are increasingly asking to know about the
latter: how to create them” [13, p. 2].
1.2 The Value of Innovation-Related Education
In this increasingly competitive, global economy, it is widely believed that contemporary college
graduates in all academic disciplines will need a broader range of skills in order to secure jobs and
create value for the organizations that employ them. Today, companies want workers who can develop
innovative processes and products, who have the skills to lead and manage teams, and who can create
and thrive in innovative environments. Further, it is projected that fewer future graduates are likely to
obtain full-time employment in many fields due to a shifts in the labor force which favor outsourcing
and contract work. This means that graduates will have to be innovative and able to differentiate
themselves in order to compete and thrive in the professional world “as companies want a workforce
they can switch on and off as needed” [14].
Innovation-related pedagogy is receiving increased attention within the academic fields of
engineering, science and technology given its critical role in product and process design and
development. This movement has been driven by economic trends, workforce demand, and a need to
meet revised accreditation standards [15,16,17]. It is particularly interesting in light of research
indicating that current pedagogy might not necessarily foster innovative thinking. A study of first year
engineering students found that they were more innovative in their design solutions than were seniors.
This suggests that educational methods currently being used may hinder rather than foster creativity
and new approaches to teaching may be necessary to enhance innovative behaviors over the course of
a four year education [18].
In academic environments, innovation education is often closely associated with entrepreneurship
education either in name or in practice. However, the degree to which the topics of innovation and
entrepreneurship are distinguished, distinctly addressed, or overlap within and across programs is
challenging to assess given their interrelated nature and the variety of educational models that exist. For
the purposes of this paper, entrepreneurship education will be associated primarily with the process of
establishing new business ventures.
There is evidence that exposure to entrepreneurship education has a positive impact and better
prepares students for the contemporary workplace. A study of senior-level engineering students found
that those who had taken one or more entrepreneurship courses had significantly higher entrepreneurial
self-efficacy than those who did not and were also more likely to get hands-on skills related to market
analysis, technology commercialization, business communication, or internships within start-up
companies [17]. Another study found that participating in an engineering entrepreneurship program had
a positive impact on retention, GPAs, and entrepreneurial activity. Data collected from alumni found
that, relative to a control group, graduates of the program were 73% more likely to have started a new
company, 23% more likely to have created new products or services, and 59% more likely to have high
confidence in leading a start-up [19].
Nathalie Duval-Couetil, Michael Dyrenfurth 145
Volume 4 · Number 3 · 2012
1.3 Approaches to Teaching Innovation
Research related to developing and assessing curriculum for innovation mirrors that of
entrepreneurship, which has been characterized as relatively new and fragmented [20]. Conceptual
frameworks are helpful to understand the emphases, desired learning outcomes and competencies
associated with innovation education programs.
Innovation has been described as both a process and a result, whereby creativity and innovation are
considered the product development process, and entrepreneurship (or intrapreneurship) represents the
process of commercialization and dissemination or diffusion of the innovation [13]. To ground the
teaching of the innovative process, Osorio created a design thinking-based innovation model (Figure 1
& Table 2) [13]. The model represents a process that starts with a problem, idea, or opportunity referred
to as an innovation challenge and, “goes iteratively from exploration and discovery to alternative
generation, then to solution development, and finally to launch and exploitation” [13, p. 4]. This
process characterizes innovation as a search for information based on an iterative process of analysis
and synthesis. This is characterized by experimentation, interdisciplinary collaboration, learning fast
from outsiders, and where risk and ambiguity must be managed.
Table 2. Steps in the Innovation Process Based on Design Thinking (Osorio, 2009)
Learning and Alternative Pre-launch Launch and
discovery generation development exploitation
Focus Creativity Exploration Execution Exploitation
Objectives Separating explicit Idea generation and Implementing, Sales, continuous
and latent needs, learning by learning before launch learning by doing and
understanding them experimentation and and from the project improvement
and learning from prototyping
experts and observation
Deliverables Reframing the Discovering the best Production ramp-up, Value for the market,
problem, finding possible user distribution and revenues for the
sources of inspiration, experience, enabled marketing, post- company and renewal of
and discovering by a project, service project process the offer
potential user and process mix learning
experiences,
anomalies and areas
of opportunity
At an educational program-level, given the various definitions of innovation, the teaching of it can
be considered part of, or spanning across, an innovation/commercialization continuum that ranges from
the topic of creativity on one end, to entrepreneurship and management on the other (Figure 2). Using
this framework, creativity and product/process development are considered the inputs or the innovation
process and the consequences of innovation, including entrepreneurship/intrapreneurship, and
business/technology management are innovation outcomes. Although in the real world these often
overlap and involve iterative processes, in this paper they will be considered distinct topics for the
purpose of describing and analyzing the emphases of educational programs that purport to be focused
on innovation.
146 Teaching Students to be Innovators: Examining Competencies and
Approaches Across Disciplines
International Journal of Innovation Science
Figure 1. General Model of Innovation Process Based on Design Thinking (Osorio, 2009)
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