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Reinventing Invention and Design

Larry G. Richards, Michael E. Gorman, William T. Scherer, and Matthew M. Mehalik University of Virginia School of Engineering and Applied Science Mechanical Engineering Bldg., Room 209B Charlottesville, VA 22903
Abstract - For the last five years, we have taught a course on Invention and Design which attracts students from the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, as well as the School of Engineering and Applied Science. This course has been a laboratory for trying new approaches to teaching and for experimenting with new instructional technologies. In this paper, we describe how the course has evolved over five years, what we have tried and how it has worked. Through a series of active learning modules, the students experience the processes of design and invention. They also reflect on their activities and group interactions, and compare their results and processes with those of other teams. In the last few years, we have made extensive use of the World Wide Web and have incorporated multimedia into our cases and projects. We describe the cases, exercises and projects used in this class and the tools we use to foster reflection. We strive to balance doing with reflection, individual and team activities, and personal and interpersonal interactions with the use of technology. Cases Each semester our students study and discuss several cases. The case method is widely used in Schools of Business, Education, and Medicine. Its potential for engineering is discussed in Richards et. al. [1]. The case method requires students to immerse themselves in a situation and assume the role of one of the participants. They must then act as that person and decide on the issues presented in the case. In each of the last two years, we have emphasized sustainability issues and the ethical implications of design decisions. We introduce the concept of Moral Imagination and then the students consider the trade-offs and compromises involved in the implementation of technology. Some of our recent cases include: The Invention of an Environmentally Intelligent Fabric: This case study follows an attempt to create a furniture fabric that makes an environmental statement. Students initially have to decide what it means to be environmental, then are exposed to the framework the fabric designers eventually adopted, and have to work through a long series of decisions that illustrate what happens when one makes environmental ethics a central goal in invention. Design of a Solar Water Heater: In this case, the students make a variety of decisions regarding the development and marketing of a solar water heater which could sit on the roof of virtually every house. Solar Electric Light Fund: This case asks students to consider what happens when photovoltaics are taken into the developing world. Both of these solar energy cases encourage students to compare these solutions with alternative means of achieving the same goals. All three of these cases and others are available on the World Wide Web at: and also from the Darden School Case Bibliography. These cases prepare our students for one of the active learning modules that form the backbone of the course. Active Learning Modules Every semester, teams of students undertake two or three major projects. These projects vary somewhat from year to year. A list of projects assigned to date is shown in Table

In 1992, we introduced a new course on Invention and Design at the University of Virginia. Development of this course has been supported by the National Science Foundation, the Fund for the Improvement of PostSecondary Education, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, and the Lemelson Foundation. It was intended for advanced undergraduates - both from the School of Engineering and Applied Science and from other academic units. We have been successful in attracting students from various engineering disciplines and from other schools. The faculty team has varied over the years, but three of us have been involved in all five iterations of this course. After five years, it is time to review our progress and results.

Some Features of This Class

Active Cooperative Learning This is not a typical lecture class. Our students actively participate in every session. Most of the time they work in groups on projects or cases. Each activity requires a team to solve a problem or accomplish a goal.

1. Descriptions of several of these were given in Gorman et. al. [2]. Until this year, we assigned three major projects. In the first two years all three projects were well defined, although the students could take diverse approaches to their products. In 1995, we loosened our specification of the second module: we specified a set of environmental concerns and allowed the students to define both their problem and possible solutions. We have allowed even greater flexibility for the last two years.

3. Oral presentations of the preliminary and final report. 4. An individual notebook documenting problem solving processes, and 5. A reflection paper in which each student reviews their group's problem solving processes and compares them to other groups and inventors. In addition, students are required to keep a journal of their reactions and reflections on class assignments, readings and activities. This could be collected at any time, and thus served to keep students prepared for classroom discussions. Visualization

Table 1. The Evolution of Assigned Projects

1993: Telephone Module Driving Simulator Diagnostic Expert System 1994: Telephone Module Solar House MRI Unit for a Horse 1995: Telephone Module Environmental Design Transporting Nuclear Waste 1996: Telephone Module Sustainable Design Transporting Nuclear Waste 1997: Telephone Module Sustainable Design This year in their first module, students learn how to invent by writing a patent application for an improvement on Bell's original telephone patent. The second module focuses on sustainable technology. The three cases mentioned above prepare the students for this module. Here the students must produce an end product suitable for submission to either the Lemelson Foundation, the Padnos Design competition, or the B F Goodrich competition. The National Collegiate Inventors and Innovators Alliance (NCIIA), funded by the Lemelson Foundation, supports projects to develop marketable products. The Padnos competition seeks innovative senior design projects which solve engineering problems "in an environmentally responsible manner." The B F Goodrich Collegiate Inventor's Program seeks inventions, ideas, or processes developed by a student or team and their university advisor. Each module includes: 1. An invention or design activity: students must create something - a telephone, a new environmental design or a system for transporting nuclear waste. 2. A preliminary report on the team's invention or design activity - a caveat in the case of the telephone module and a pre-proposal for the environmental module.

For all these papers and presentations, we stress the importance of visual representations. The students are encouraged to capture their ideas as drawings or models, and to use process diagrams or flow charts to map individual and group activities [3]. Through their readings and class presentations, we emphasize the importance of multiple representations for thinking and communicating. Patents During their second module our students are dealing with contemporary issues and concerns. A practicing engineer visits the class, he explains the patent process and describes the required documentation. Then we take the class to Washington, D.C. to actually conduct a patent search. A team of search specialists guide the students through the process. Each team must prepare a paragraph describing their ideas in advance of the visit. On site, they conduct a key word search on the computer. They also perform a manual search to elaborate on the computerized one. Teams typically find half a dozen relevant patents, and obtain hard copies to study and evaluate. These students follow the whole process of obtaining a patent from idea, to search, to actually writing the patent. They also see what other inventors have designed in a topic area they have selected. Finally, they learn that there are areas of professional activity that most were previously unaware of including patent search firms, patent law, and a cadre of inventors. Reflection We encourage our students to reflect on their activities as they are doing them, and we require individual and group reflection papers for each project. In these we take the students beyond doing and have them consider what they have done, why they did it that particular way, what could have been done differently, and then evaluate both their product and process. What lessons did you learn from this experience? We use Donald Norman's Things That Make Us Smart [4] to encourage reflection. Norman distinguishes between experiential and reflective modes of cognition.

Experiential thinking is automatic. We react to events and problems efficiently because we know what to do. In reflective thinking, we need to figure out what to do; we think, analyze, consider and decide. By reflecting on what we have done, we can devise ways to do similar tasks better in the future. Readings/Discussion Readings are not merely about facts to be learned for a test; indeed we do not give tests. Rather they are positions to be studied, questioned, discussed and reflected upon. This year in addition to Norman, we assigned books by Simon: The Sciences of the Artificial [5] and Petroski: Invention by Design.[6] Discussing is not a natural activity for most engineering students. They are often uncomfortable, especially with the notion that the authors and sometimes the professors disagree; they don't converge on the same right answer. Expressing their own views has not been encouraged in most of their other classes. But, if they are to become capable of judgment and decisions, our students must learn to exercise these faculties. Web Based Materials We have a highly developed Home Page on the World Wide Web, and have utilized a variety of multimedia and webbased capabilities to deliver instruction. The class syllabus, supplementary materials and many of the readings are posted on our class Home Page: Because we rarely lecture, but rather require interaction during class, our teaching assistant keeps notes on each class and posts them on the class Home Page (real time notes). Classes are often extended reflections on course topics or discussions of the issues related to the student projects or the assigned cases. Unique Aspects of this Course A list of the special experiences provided in this course is given in Table 2. They include case studies, field trips, guest speakers, and discussions/reflections, and even a few lectures.

Visit to the U.S. Patent Office Cases on Sustainable Design: American Solar Network Module Design Tex Rohner Textil AG Lecture/Discussion/Reflection Sessions: Reflective vs. Experiential Cognition: How artifacts make us Smart The Nature of Design and Invention Engineering Design Methodologies Design Criteria and Constraints Design for Manufacturing, Assembly, Recycling Creativity and Intelligence TQM and the House of Quality Decision Making with Multiple Objectives Risk Analysis/Assessment The Audience: Who are our students?

The composition of this class is shown by discipline for each of the five years in Table 3. We have succeeded in achieving diversity among the various engineering disciplines, although most of our non-engineering students are psychologists. This course is cross listed in both the Psychology Department and the Engineering School's Division of Technology, Culture and Communication.

Table 3. Composition of the Invention and Design Class by Year

Area 93 Engineering Systems Mechanical Electrical Chemical Civil Computer Science Engineering Science Applied Math Other Schools Architecture Psychology Cognitive Science Environmental Biology English Political Science Interdisciplinary Mathematics N 3 1 1 3 2 1 0 0 1 3 0 0 1 0 1 0 1 18 94 6 3 3 2 4 2 1 1 0 1 1 0 0 1 0 0 0 25 Year 95 96 2 1 0 1 0 3 1 0 0 2 2 0 0 0 0 1 0 13 2 3 2 1 2 3 0 0 0 2 0 1 0 0 0 0 0 16

97 3 0 4 1 0 8 0 0 0 4 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 20

Table 2. TCC315 Special Experiences

The Survival Game (a team exercise) How to be Effective as a Team How to Make Effective Presentations Visualizing Information Visit by Al Rich - solar energy advocate Visit by Rodger Flagg - president of a patent search firm

Evaluation of the Class

We conduct a major evaluation at the end of each semester. In addition to the standard course rating forms, we conduct specialized surveys and group discussions. Last year, a consultant from our Teaching Resource Center conducted a focus group session on this class. Among the things that our students felt worked well were: the Patent Office field trip, the Web based course material and multiple professors and perspectives. On the negative side, they felt we required too many presentations, that the grading was subjective, and that the Web material needed to be updated more frequently, especially by providing links to new material. The grading issue is a perpetual concern. We try to make the students realize that the way to do well in this class is to forget about grades and focus instead on creating a quality product, presentation and patent. Engineering students want to be told exactly what to do to get an A. This is exactly the attitude we want them to transcend. Many of last year's students commented that our trip to the Patent Office was the single most important event in this class. They encouraged us to repeat it (we did) and to maximize class participation (still a problem). They also complained about the workload, so this year we cut back from 3 modules to 2 (next year we will go back to 3!). Finally, they asked for more discussion of the assigned readings in class (again, we complied). Effects on the Students Tables 4 to 6 summarize student reactions to this course on a standard end-of-course survey. In general, the students feel this course is challenging, well organized and meets its objectives. We listed five specific learning objects. Our students should learn: (1) how to reflect upon, and improve, individual and group problem solving processes, (2) how to present and defend both the group's product and the process by which it was created, (3) successful styles or methods of invention and design, (4) that goal definition is an iterative process, and (5) how to keep an invention notebook. Late in the semester, after they have had several experiences of "being creative" we learn that they are (can be) creative; they learn to work in teams and what contributes to an effective team experience; and they learn how to present their ideas to an audience of their peers and teachers. Some of the students continue to design and invent. For example, one of our student teams received a grant from the Lemelson Foundation to patent and market their technology for aerating anaerobic soils. The goal is to turn students into professionals who are trying to have an impact beyond the classroom, creating technologies that will benefit the environment. Selected Student Comments Spring, 1994 : "Great class. A change from the norm, a chance to be interactive." "This course was challenging in that the material was new and that the different projects required a lot of thinking, organization, and effectively working in groups". "I really enjoyed this class, especially the openendedness of it. It makes one think in a different way from the standard e-school find the right equation for the problem routine - it was a challenging course and got somewhat fun at the same time." "I thought this was a very innovative, worthwhile course - taught group work and innovation - more interactive than any other I've taken here at UVa." "This course was one of the most challenging classes I have taken. It was probably one of the best, too." "Very non-traditional course." "This was a very challenging course; not the humanities I was expecting. But, the amount of learning was incredible. I gained a good understanding of the processes of invention and design, understanding that will surely help me in the future....2 thumbs up."

Spring, 1995: "GREAT class. I spent half my time feeling confused and lost, but it was done by design. Learned a lot and plan to continue studying this area." "In general, the most valuable thing I learned was how to work in a group most effectively."

Spring, 1996 "This class adequately and thoroughly depicted the invention and design process. It covered multiple objectives, from presentation skills to problem solving to group interaction. The reflection papers were a useful exercise in learning from our experiences in retrospect." "In each module, my group members and I always wondered what exactly the professors were looking for, exactly what was our assignment. Now looking back, I guess this was done on purpose in order to be openended. Overall, great class, I learned a lot." "The group projects were often a pain because everyone had so much work to do. It was good to work in groups though because it is something we will have to do often. I think the projects were good, although the more open-ended the project was the more fun I had."

Long Term Issues

Teaching as a Team All three faculty have been involved with all aspects of the course from its inception. This is true team teaching, not sequential appearances by unrelated instructors. This

approach presents a number of administrative problems. Most Department Chairs really don't want their faculty involved in multi-disciplinary courses and they don't understand team teaching. The demands of staffing department courses make it difficult to keep the team together. Some of us have had to teach an overload to continue this course. Also many Chairs think that once you teach a course it is easy from then on. They don't appreciate the difficulty of experimenting with new approaches and content from year to year. Yet this degree of innovation is necessary to keep the course vital and its content current. Encouraging Students to be Creative In most schools, this course would be considered nontraditional; it brings together students from various disciplines (both technical and non-technical). It requires them to extend their knowledge and skills into new domains and address unsolved problems, to define their own problems and decide when they have a workable solution, and to work as teams and sell their ideas. There are no tests, few traditional lectures and no right answers. Yet the students report they learn more in this course than in any other. Engineering students find this format especially daunting - they keep looking to the instructors for the algorithms that will tell them how to do the assignments. They are forced to admit that students from psychology and other disciplines are often more creative. By the end of the semester some of the engineering students have caught fire and are doing original work; others remain resentful of the fact that no one ever told them exactly what to do to get an A. Late in the semester, after they have had several experiences of being creative we discuss the literature on creativity [7, 8] and its implications for engineering design and invention. Maintaining and Improving a Complex Web Site We want students in the current class to see samples of work from previous classes, and have links to dozens of resources. The time necessary to create and maintain all of this is prohibitive. This year, we required students to put their papers and presentations on the Web themselves. It worked reasonably well. Impact of This Course We are impressed with the number of times alumni of this course grab us spontaneously in the hall to tell us how valuable it was. We suspect the perceived value of this course improves with hindsight, especially as students enter

the world of work. We plan to conduct long-term follow-up evaluations with our former students. We have used this course as a laboratory for exploring innovative teaching methods, as well as a vehicle for handson, active, cooperative learning about Invention and Design. It has been a testing ground for projects, activities, cases, and teaching approaches. One goal is to pilot activities which can be used in other courses and contexts, especially our first year Engineering Design class, and other TCC courses. This course is a learning experience for the faculty as well as for the students.

We gratefully acknowledge the contributions of Rodger Flagg and his team at Express Search, Inc.

1) Richards, L.G., Gorman, M.E., Scherer, W.T., and Landel, R.D., "Promoting Active Learning with Cases and Instructional Modules", Journal of Engineering Education, Vol. 84, No. 4, Oct., 1995, pg. 375-381. 2) Gorman, M.E., Kagiwada, J., Richards, L.G., and Scherer, W.T., "Teaching Invention and Design: MultiDisciplinary Learning Modules" Journal of Engineering Education, Vol. 84, No. 2, April, 1995, pg. 175-185. 3) Gorman, M.E., and Carlson, W.B., "Mapping Invention and Design", CHEMTECH, Vol. 22, #10, Oct., 1992, pg. 584-591. 4) Norman, Donald A., Things that Make Us Smart : Defending Human Attributes in the Age of the Machine, Reading, Mass.: Addison-Wesley Publishing Company, 1993. 5) Simon, Herbert A., The Sciences of the Artificial, Third Edition, Cambridge, Mass.: The MIT Press, 1996. 6) Petroski, Henry, Invention by Design: How Engineers Get From Thought to Thing, Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1996. 7) Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly, Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention, New York: Harper Collins, 1996. 8) Sternberg, Robert J., Successful Intelligence; How Practical and Creative Intelligence Determine Success in Life, New York: Simon and Schuster, 1996.

Table 4. How Challenging was the Subject Matter?

Ratings Year 1993 1994 1995 1996 Well Below 0 0 0 0 Below Average 0 0.05 0 0.07 Average 0.27 0.37 0.11 0.14 Above Average 0.27 0.47 0.33 0.72 Well Above 0.45 0.11 0.56 0.07

Table 5. How Well Were the Objectives of the Course Accomplished?

Ratings Year 1993 1994 1995 1996 Well Below 0 0 0 0.07 Below Average 0 0.11 0 0 Average 0 0.37 0.22 0.29 Above Average 0.73 0.32 0.22 0.36 Well Above 0.27 0.21 0.56 0.29

Table 6. How Well was the Course Material Organized and Developed?
Ratings Year 1993 1994 1995 1996 Well Below 0 0.05 0 0.07 Below Average 0.09 0.05 0 0.14 Average 0.09 0.37 0.22 0.29 Above Average 0.55 0.42 0.22 0.36 Well Above 0.27 0.11 0.56 0.14