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. One approach to train 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. This research focuses on the development of instructional resources that provide exposure to the abundance of design examples that can be found in nature, as well as scaffold the discovery and knowledge transfer processes such that those natural designs can be used to inspire engineering solutions. The project work period is Fall 2015 to Summer 2019. Design theory, specifically Concept-Knowledge (C-K) Theory is used as the basis for the instructional resources. C-K theory is used as it is known for integrating multiple domains of information and facilitating innovation through connection building. The instructional resources include lectures, in-class activities, assignments, rubrics and templates.
The instructional resources have been deployed at two predominately undergraduate institutions (PUIs) in the second-year engineering curriculum. The learning impact of the instructional resources was evaluated in two ways: (1) a comparative study of the C-K method against the popular Biomimicry Institute method, and (2) an impact study using a combination of correlation analysis and principle component analysis of the biomimicry and design learning attributes. Both studies resulted in significant results. Statistical significance was achieved for the hypothesis that the C-K method would produce higher quality solutions than the Biomimicry Institute method. This hypothesis was tested using parametric (student t test) and non-parametric (Wilcoxon-Mann-Whitney Rank Sum) tests for each of the four metrics and the cumulative score of the four metrics. The results of correlation analysis based on University of Georgia and James Madison University students indicated that that the biomimicry process attributes- Biological knowledge, Defined dichotomy, Defining rough ideas and Transition from rough idea to sketch– had strong positive influence on the specific design engineering attributes of – Imagination, Innovation and Design Solution Definition. These relationships demonstrate that the design solutions can be innovative following C-K theory. These correlations also provide evidence to further the belief that biomimicry is a significant approach to enhancing engineering curricula. Our instructional resources have resulted in design concepts that more closely resembled biological inspiration, learning from nature to innovate rather than copying, as opposed to biological imitation that closely resembles the observable features of biological systems.
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