Dodge Evaluation Question 2

Question 2: How do student attitudes toward invention change as a result of the course?

Students were surveyed extensively about their attitudes toward invention, and they also completed numerous journal entries which reveal their attitudes toward certain aspects of the invention process. Initial entries and surveys from the beginning of the course contain surprising detail, but many students failed to put enough detail into the end-of-the-course surveys. Informal interviews with the students revealed that they had participated in a research study which necessitated the completion of numerous surveys, and they did not want to fill out any more questionairres. As a result, drawing conclusions about student attitude change from the pre- and post-course surveys is problematic. However, several aspects of student attitudes are covered in journal entries and surveys administered during the course, and a discussion of these areas follows.

In general, students appeared to gain a greater appreciation for the effort required in the invention process, and many students became aware of the variety of influences upon the invention process, such as the importance of collaboration, the role of politics, and the need for patience and persistence. The teacher noted other specific areas in which student attitudes were impacted:

First [students] found out that just having an idea for an invention is only the beginning, not the end; instead of feeling like they know it all, they learn how little they know. The invention process pulls them into a situation that creates the need to know, an intrinsic motivation brought about by having them immersed in a scenario that they helped create.

They learn that when things are first assembled, they rarely work; or if they work at first, they might not work later. They find themselves in the process of tinkering: trying different things, making adjustments, retrenching and starting over. True exploration toward one's goal is an experience that rarely occurs in a science [classroom] setting.

They learn that invention is rarely a solo effort, but instead must involve interaction with others at various steps along the way....They learn about the marketability aspects of invention. Who would want it and why? Again research paves the way to discover not the cost of one's prototype, but instead the cost of marketing the invention in the real world. What is involved in materials, manufacture, and sales becomes a reality not previously confronted.

In other areas student attitudes were not expected to change drastically as a result of this course. For example, student conceptions of the relative roles of art and science in the invention process underwent only a minor change during the course, but this was expected considering the strong emphasis upon science and technology in this course. But the following two areas, the role of reflection and the nature of the patent process, were considered to be objectives of the course, and a detailed examination of student attitudes was conducted.

The Role of Reflection

Students were asked before, several times during, and after the course about their attitudes toward and use of reflection and intrapersonal evaluation during the inventive process. With respect to the role of reflection, students initially placed a stronger emphasis on the role of tinkering than on that of reflection. Reflection was often mentioned as the vehicle through which ideas were originally introduced. In fact, many students mentioned as purposes of tinkering certain processes that are normally attributed to reflection (e.g., determine future possibilities and methods, represent creative and logic aspects of inventing, produce new perspectives). By the end of the course, however, over 70% of the students remarked on the importance of reflection in their creative and problem-solving processes:

I feel that the remembrance and understanding of knowledge and former experiences are the most vital to reflect. You can branch off of former creative ideas to create more useful ones.

Reflection plays an important role....At times, I reflect on past times in which I needed or wanted something that doesn't exist. Ideas also come from my imagination and my fields of interest, such as music and art. I think of solutions to problems in fields that I know.

Reflection has helped me with respect to decision making. A conscious effort was made to take into account the mistakes made in the telephone project when working on the solar project. While these are very different projects in terms of objectives, many aspects of the telephone project are applicable in the solar project.

Evaluation of ideas.

Students were also asked about a specific type of reflection -- judgment of their ideas before they present them to other groups members. First session students were evenly split between feeling that they evaluate their ideas before they mention them and feeling that they do not pre-judge their ideas. All but one second session student wrote that they evaluate their ideas before sharing them. Some representative comments from students who claim not to judge their ideas:

I usually tell my team members about my idea as soon as I get one. The group and I then refine the idea together to make it better.

In my group, we all throw out ideas and thoughts even if they are not practical or sensible. We all brainstorm and don't care what ideas we have. Sometimes, I think about my idea, but I'm not very aware of its sensibility. I say what thoughts are on my mind.

When I contribute ideas to the group, I don't think about judging them beforehand. I feel that group members should feel open to each other, making a comfortable environment in which one does not feel they will be criticized for their ideas....Even if an idea seems useless, another group member may hear that idea, which immediately triggers an idea in their head.

A group is supposed to build on your ideas and support them. Therefore, I don't think I should have to judge my ideas first.

I try to be open with my ideas about the project. Before an idea is implemented, it is discussed and debated. If the idea is not feasible, it will be thrown out or, more likely, altered in a way that makes it workable. Since many of my ideas are bizarre and unrelated to the project, it appears through reflection that this has occasionally taken the focus off the project objective. On the whole, however, I feel that this openness contributed to the project.

Representative comments from students who feel that intrapersonal evaluation is important:

I judge my ideas to the fullest extent before I present my ideas to the group. I think about whether it would be cost efficient and environmentally safe. I also think about whether or not we could work on it as a group and if all the materials we would need would be available.

I judge an idea before mentioning it to the group to a fairly far extent. I look at the possibilities and capabilities of building or making the idea work. I think of the potential of our group and the idea.

You have to think about practicality, marketability, and all other factors. If I came up with an idea that would require zillions of solar cells, I wouldn't say anything because it would never pass, and there's no point to doing that.

I think through the mechanics and the process of my idea. I try to think what may happen if we make it. If I see any flaws in it then I do not mention it.

I consider if the idea has any potential. If my idea is ridiculous, then I won't mention it. If it has any value or could be benefitted from then I would mention it.

The importance placed on "value" of the idea is interesting. Two students mentioned a combination of both evaluation and non-evaluation:

Most of the time we just brainstorm, so I just blurt out what's [on my mind], but if the idea is completely stupid or not practical I just keep it to myself.

My ideas are not screened before I give them to my group members. When I have an idea, I almost immediately revise it several times. When I feel the idea is workable, I show it to the group. At no point in time is the idea judged. It is just revised in to a better form.

The disparity in attitudes between the two sessions is somewhat puzzling. On the surface, the group experiences were relatively similar across the two sessions -- most groups encountered some problems interacting, one or two settled their differences almost immediately, and one or two allowed the problems to fester until they boiled over. Neither session appeared to have a monopoly on a group climate that encouraged brainstorming as opposed to a more critical group in which members chose their words carefully. The interaction between intrapersonal evaluation and group dynamics needs to be further explored.

Students were also asked how their groups balanced environmental, logistical, financial, and other considerations during the two projects. Their mixed responses indicate that the students were unable to keep all these constraints in mind--different groups gave higher priorities to different constraints, with the highest priority accorded to building something that worked:

It was almost impossible to balance these things in the solar project due to the incredible cost of solar cells and in the phone project, all the materials were widely available.

In the building of the two inventions environmental impact, cost, efficiency, and production played little to no part. Our main interest was a working theory/model, not anything on the list.

Our group never worried too much about those categories. We were more focused on producing a finished product more than anything else.

In the telephone project, our group was mostly concerned with cost, efficiency, and production. Luckily, each of these turned out to our advantage. The carbon transmitter was small, simple, and worked very well. On the solar project our balancing question was more difficult. Environmental impact was a huge concern, of course, however we also had to make decisions concerning logistics, prices, consumers, and materials.

In the telephone project, there were few issues to consider save the basic physics and the design. All that was required was a minimum of success. In the solar project, efficiency was key. Without the required energy, this car won't move. Also, we had to work with a much more limited source of energy.

On both projects, we used materials that would be low in cost but would still be dependable and sturdy. On the solar project, we got to sit down (or I did) and pick out things that our car needed, along with the price ranges. It turned out that our car would be very cost efficient if mass produced and put out on the market.

Many of these comments are interesting because they seem to underplay the role of certain issues during part of the creative process. For example, the second quote above indicates that the student (and his group) did not consider environmental or cost issues when inventing. Yet when his group presented their patent of a solar-powered boat, the main selling point was the minimal impact that the boat would have upon the environment. Either the student downplayed the role of the consideration of cost issues, or his group was merely selling their creative product by marketing it at a specific audience (e.g., boaters who are concerned about environmental impact).

The Patent Process

Student responses on the initial surveys indicate that the students understood some basic aspects of the patent process, including the purpose of protecting the inventor's rights to an invention and the need to submit a formal application describing the invention:

In order to obtain a patent, your invention must be completely different from anything anyone else has ever made.

Patenting involves making a presentation of your idea and what you plan to do with it. It also protects your idea so that no one else can steal it.

When one applies for a patent, a lawyer is a good idea. A model and explanation must be submitted, and the idea must be approved. Patents last for 16 years.

The patent process is writing and drawing a description of a creation so that no one else can take credit for it.

You describe everything applicable in a paper, complete with diagrams. Patent officials look at the paper and decide if the idea is original. If it is, then the inventor is given all rights to the invention.

During the course, students were exposed to the patent process in a variety of ways, including a film biography of Bell and his invention of the telephone, copies of numerous patents and caveats, frequent discussions of the patent process, and the preparation, presentation, and defense of formal caveats and patents for their own inventions.

Responses on the concluding survey indicate that, by the end of the course, students were more aware of the fact that the patent process is more than a rigid, bureaucratic process -- it involves a considerable deal of subjectivity, competition, flexibility, and perhaps chance:

Someone who hasn't fully developed an idea can submit a caveat and have priority over someone who has fully developed the idea and submits a patent an hour later.

The aspect of time is interesting in that it can play such a vital role in the process.

I thought if any or too many claims were turned down the patent was rejected.

If you are brilliant but write bad claims or leave something major out, you lose.

That it is almost like bargaining in that you can put in a lot of claims but only really can get a few.

That when you bring the patent before an examiner, it is based on their opinion whether or not you receive a patent.

I find the claims to be the most interesting because you express what you think are the best and most novel parts of your invention.

One student believes the patent process to be the culmination of inventing, the point where "building, art, science, [and] English all [come] together." In summary, the students certainly understand more about the patent process, of both the 1870's and the 1990's, than they did when they first started the course. Even one student whose mother is a patent lawyer seems to have gained greater insight into the patent application process.