This paper investigates student acquisition of creative thinking skills in Solving Real Problems, a first year engineering design course in the Mechanical Engineering Department at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. This class was developed around a service-learning model where teams of two to six students worked with community-based partners to design products for use in their communities. Each team also had at least one faculty member and one teaching assistant working alongside the students as additional team members. Teaching techniques used in the class included multiple in-class idea generation exercises, individual and group assignments, concept, visualization, and fabrication instruction. There were thirteen students total enrolled in the class, two of whom were upperclassmen, one of whom was cross-registered from another university. The participants of this study are the ten first-year MIT students that took Solving Real Problems (2.00B) in spring semester 2007, consisting of five females and five males. At the end of the semester, eleven students total, including each of these ten first-year MIT students, participated in focus groups and responded affirmatively to the question “Thinking about Solving Real Problems in particular, do you think that the class improved your ability to be creative?” Thirty minute follow-up interviews with each student explored this improvement in creativity and make up the core data analyzed in this paper. Common themes discussed by students in relation to creativity include the interactive lecture and lab environment, the involvement of the professors and confidence and hands-on practice, suggesting a community of practice model of learning creativity in the classroom.

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