This study explores whether changing design objectives during introductory mechanical engineering courses would improve design novelty and quality when these courses offer a competition element. Design fixation can occur when students are presented with the same design objective because the institutionalized “best” solutions are transferred from semester to semester and student to student. Design competitions are a popular way to teach the design and construction components, often with a focus on robotics. Some competitions are newly designed and rebuilt every single semester, requiring advanced planning and often high budgets. Others reuse a similar competition from year to year without any changes to the design objectives. This paper tries to answer whether or not students are building more novel designs when the competition changes from semester to semester. In this study, robots from four different configurations for a design-and-build activity were analyzed. The unchanged design prompt and 3 semesters of different design prompts were included in the study. The evaluations of the robots were based on the performance of the robots, the type and quality of the designs, and the relationship between the design competition and the robots. Results from this study suggest that changing design objectives (i.e. challenges found in a robotic competition) allows for a wider variation in the designs. While the average novelty did not change, students were no longer limited to and fixated on a very small range of designs.

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