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Teaching innovative design reasoning: How concept–knowledge theory can help overcome fixation effects

  • Armand Hatchuel (a1), Pascal Le Masson (a1) and Benoit Weil (a1)

How can we prepare engineering students to work collectively on innovative design issues, involving ill-defined, “wicked” problems? Recent works have emphasized the need for students to learn to combine divergent and convergent thinking in a collaborative, controlled manner. From this perspective, teaching must help them overcome four types of obstacles or “fixation effects” (FEs) that are found in the generation of alternatives, knowledge acquisition, collaborative creativity, and creativity processes. We begin by showing that teaching based on concept–knowledge (C-K) theory can help to manage FEs because it helps to clarify them and then to overcome them by providing means of action. We show that C-K theory can provide scaffolding to improve project-based learning (PBL), in what we call project-based critical learning (PBCL). PBCL helps students be critical and give due thought to the main issues in innovative design education: FEs. We illustrate the PBCL process with several cases and show precisely where the FEs appear and how students are able to overcome them. We conclude by discussing two main criteria of any teaching method, both of which are usually difficult to address in situations of innovative design teaching. First, can the method be evaluated? Second, is the chosen case “realistic” enough? We show that C-K-based PBCL can be rigorously evaluated by teachers, and we discuss the circumstances in which a C-K-based PBCL may or may not be realistic.

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