Teaming up for Mutual Learning - a Case Study of Merging Innovation Approaches of a Medium-sized Company

DS 69: Proceedings of E&PDE 2011, the 13th International Conference on Engineering and Product Design Education, London, UK, 08.-09.09.2011

Year: 2011
Editor: Kovacevic, Ahmed, Ion, William, McMahon, Chris, Buck, Lyndon and Hogarth, Peter
Author: Poulsen, Søren Bolvig; Pedersen, Tanja Aabo; Ovesen, Nis
Series: E&PDE
Section: Industrial collaboration
Page(s): 585-590


The focus of this paper is two-folded within the theme of collaboration between education and industry. Firstly it unfolds how learning for design-engineer students can be established and facilitated in a dynamic setting with industrial partners and secondly how industrial partners can benefit from student collaboration. The paper is based on research activities carried out in the context of a 3rd semester project at the Industrial Design Msc. program at The School of Architecture, Design & Planning at Aalborg University. At School of Architecture, Design and Planning the teaching style is Problem Based Learning (PBL). In PBL, student’s focuses on a complex problem that does not have a single correct answer – in this case the addressed problem was concerned with the innovation approach of a medium-sized company. Traditionally innovation projects and strategic planning has emerged from top managers offices and has been based on i.a. technological an economic factors. An alternative approach has emerged that suggests that innovation is most successfully initiated by the research and design resources with-in a company. The two approaches are denoted as respectively top-down and bottom-up (Munnecke & Van der Lugt, 2006). Practicing the top-down approach was familiar and integrated within the company, while the student introduced the bottom-up approach during the project. The project also investigated how these different approaches could work together. It was hereby investigated how to exploit the knowledge and competencies of both the top managers and the research and design resources. The paper presents a number of activities carried out in a case context, illustrating methodologies applied and experiences gained in how to integrate the top-down and bottom-up approach to innovation. Based on the students’ work a set of guidelines is provided on how to plan and carry out activities that supports the integration of the two approaches. The construction of the collaboration offered mutual benefit for both involved parties. The student was offered a realistic case with actual problems to address. Here she could practice her the future role and get knowledge of constraints within industry together with applying her trained skills and demonstrate her professional competence in facilitating an organizational change with, for the company, new ways of working. The company received a fresh, theoretical strong and practical oriented suggestion for new bottom up ways of working together with concrete and pragmatic methodologies for bridging their exciting top down approach with a bottom up approach. Their learning was also stretched over the entire project as an iterative and event oriented approach was applied. This is a good example of the mutual benefits that can arise when collaboration between education and industry is established.

Keywords: Bridging bottom up and top down approach, design-engineering students, PBL, iterative process, collaboration, mutual learning


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