Tinkering, Tools and Techniques – Creativity in German Engineering Education
Purpose – Engineers are expected to be the creative problem solvers and innovative tinkerers of a company. This article examines to what extent German tertiary education lives up to this expectation. The analysis of German module descriptions in engineering shows that there are no courses dedicated to creativity and that creativity and its techniques are mentioned only sparsely in the modules of the engineering curriculum. Surveys amongst our students show that they are usually familiar with techniques which are based on generating alternatives such as brainstorming and morphological box, but lack knowledge about techniques based on challenging assumptions such as forced connection. They tend to favour discursive techniques over intuitive ones and techniques which use generation of alternatives as an idea-generating principle. A combination of creativity techniques seems to be most conducive to creative output in our course. Finally, we present some first findings on creative sessions in remote work with the help of virtual whiteboards, which have gained in importance since the pandemic.
Methodology – Firstly, we present an document analysis of the modules of Bachelor and Master programs of mechanical engineering at German universities and universities of applied sciences. Secondly, we present results from surveys in our Master course in “Innovation and Technology Management” where we gathered data from students over several years and performed an external evaluation of the output using Consensual Assessment Technique (CAT). These results include which creativity techniques the students know prior to the course and which they prefer as well as which techniques seem to be conducive to engineering creativity. Furthermore we surveyed their experiences with creative sessions as remote work.
Conclusion – Overall, the article shows the importance to teach prospective engineers the basics in creativity. Students should have the opportunity to acquire knowledge about and apply different creativity techniques, as different techniques have different strengths and weaknesses and, thus, different areas of fruitful application. They should also have the chance to try out different modes such as in-person sessions and virtual sessions, as some of the future work will most likely shift online. Furthermore, a combination of different creativity techniques makes it more likely that engineers break through their usual systematic-analytic way of thinking and helps them to think outside the box to find creative solutions for the pressing problems of our time.
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