Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.


Students in scientific/technical-oriented disciplines struggle with achieving good levels of innovation when exposed to design problems. Research indicates the need for implementing alternative pedagogical approaches in technical curricula that enhance students’ creative skills. The purpose of this study was to evaluate the implementation of a cross-disciplinary pedagogical approach with a focus on teaching innovation in the field of packaging engineering at a university in the United States. A Design Thinking Project-Based Learning (DTPBL) approach was used to improve the levels of innovation in student work. Its outcomes were compared with those of a Traditional Project-Based Learning (TPBL) approach. The implementation of DTPBL across several courses took place between 2015 and 2018. TPBL was the norm in these courses between 2009 and 2014. National and international student design competitions were used to assess the level of innovation of student work externally. Statistically significant differences were found in the levels of innovation of student work between approaches. DTPBL projects placed higher in design competitions, and they were recognized more often by independent expert judges than TPBL projects. At a national level, TPBL generated 172 projects in 11 instances, obtaining 12 awards. DTPBL produced 61 projects in seven instances, and student work was recognized with 21 awards. At a global level, student work created with TPBL was never recognized, while student projects generated using DTPBL received seven recognitions in three participation instances. This study provides evidence that a Design Thinking Project-Based Learning (DTPBL) approach can be a successful pedagogical strategy to enhance students’ creative skills and produce innovative design solutions.