Comparative Study of Undergraduate and Practicing Engineer Knowledge of the Roles of Problem Definition and Idea Generation in Design

Reid Bailey
Systems and Information Engineering
151 Engineer’s Way, P.O. Box 400747
University of Virginia, Charlottesville VA 22904, USA

Little doubt exists that globalization will be a dominant part of engineering in the twenty-first century. This major shiftÐfrom engineers collaborating and competing within a fairly limited region to engineers collaborating and competing around the worldÐwill require engineers to possess different knowledge to be successful. Two areas of design knowledge that are becoming more important due to globalization are problem definition and idea generation. These areas of knowledge are cited as being important because they rely on `right-brain’ thinking in addition to analytical know-how, a combination that is more difficult to offshore. In this study, knowledge of the roles of problem definition and idea generation in engineering design is assessed over time: subjects are assessed before any college-level engineering, during their engineering education, and five or more years after starting to practice engineering. The primary assessment instrument involves subjects critiquing a proposed design process; their critiques are then analysed to determine what they know about the roles of problem definition and idea generation in design. Results show that no significant learning about problem definition occurs until an undergraduate’s senior year, with large gains also made after graduation by practicing engineers. For idea generation, students learn a significant amount while enrolled in an introduction to engineering course, but lose this knowledge later during the curriculum.


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