Enhancing the Pedagogy of Bio-inspired Design in an Engineering Curriculum
The future engineer is not only expected to offer technical ingenuity but also to adapt to a continuously evolving environment while simultaneously being able to operate outside the narrow limits of one discipline and be ethically grounded in solving the complex problems of the future. To address the competencies of the future engineer undergraduate education must train students to not only solve engineering challenges that transcend disciplinary boundaries, but also communicate, transfer knowledge, and collaborate across technical and non-technical boundaries.
Our approach to training engineers in these competencies is teaching biomimicry or bio-inspired design in an engineering curriculum, which offers relevance to professional practice as well as an affective hook to frame complex, cross-disciplinary problems. Showing engineering students the significance and utility of bio-inspired design is easy, whereas teaching them how to move between the engineering design and biology spaces to build connections that facilitate innovative design and increase engineering students' cognitive flexibility, creativity, and adaptive problem solving skills is much more difficult. This work addresses this important gap in teaching bio-inspired through the creation, evaluation, and dissemination of evidenced-based instructional resources for teaching bio-inspired design in an engineering curriculum.
This research aims to address undergraduate student training in multidisciplinary design innovation and the gap in teaching bio-inspired design through the creation of instructional resources (teaching modules, learning activities, assignments, projects) that provide exposure to the abundance of design examples that can be found in nature, and scaffold the discovery and knowledge transfer processes such that those natural designs can be used to inspire engineering solutions. Concept-Knowledge theory, a non-domain specific approach to innovative design, is used as a framework to create instructional resources as it is amenable to a wide range of engineering problems as well as programs. Implementation and evaluation of the resources will be through longitudinal assessments at two primarily undergraduate institutions.
Key deliverables of this research are evidence-based, instructional resources that integrate biology, engineering, design, and simulation to establish a two-way connection between engineering and biology, and scaffold engineers in the critical thought processes of bio-inspired design. Another outcome of this research is the learning impact evaluation of the resources with respect to student engagement, ability to recognize and formulate interrelationships across disciplinary boundaries, and ability to create bio-inspired designs. The instructional resources are expected to produce knowledge that will improve student learning, STEM literacy, cross-disciplinary thinking, and innovation.
The broader impact will be at multiple levels including student learning gains and engagement, engineering curriculum enhancement, and societal benefit. Students will learn transferrable skills that will enable them to be successful in the global workforce and tackle the cross-disciplinary challenges that lie ahead. Bio-inspired design supports diversity and inclusion of ideas, skill development, systems thinking, and connection building across curricula and disciplines, and will attract women and underrepresented minorities to pursue STEM fields. Dissemination is through international conferences, the Biomimicry Educators Network and the National Science Digital Library.
Project started in Sep. 15, 2015
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