Understanding innovation competency is the first step in fostering innovative engineers as conceptualizations can both enhance and inhibit innovative behaviors. Though literature is replete with discussions on conceptualizing innovation competency, there is much disagreement regarding its concepts as well as about how to put into operation the concept in teaching and learning. This paper addresses the disagreement through an empirical study in one problem- and projectbased learning (PBL) curriculum. A case study on an engineering master program, Environment Management (EM), in Aalborg University, Denmark, has been conducted to answer the following questions. 1) How have academic staff conceptualized innovation competency in the PBL curriculum? 2) How have students conceptualized innovation competency in the PBL curriculum? 3) What are the similarities and differences between academic staff and students’ conceptualizations? 4) How are academic staff and students’ conceptualizations on innovation competency differentiated and related in concepts in the literature? This study encompasses eighteen in-depth interviews with academic staff and students. Conceptualizations on innovation competency were identified by analyzing the narratives of interviewees and coding the transcriptions into pre-prepared categories, based on the theoretical framework inspired by activity theory. The analysis of empirical data indicates a collaborative nature of innovation competency in the PBL curriculum; emphasizes the empowerment of individuals during teamwork; displays the interaction between individuals, teams and the social system. Furthermore, it describes innovation competency as a wide range of human abilities and processes, such as personal ability (in finding real-life problems and formulating research questions), interpersonal ability (by being open and responsive to diverse perspectives and intentionally constructing collaborative relationships), and implementing ability (by effectively implementing their ideas in useful projects).
International Journal of Engineering Education, 2013, Vol 29, Issue 1, p. 3-16