Using History to Teach Invention and Design: The Case of the Telephone1

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This paper shows how a historical case, the invention of the telephone, can be used to teach invention and design in a way that combines engineering, social sciences, and humanities. The historical problem of transmitting speech was turned into an active learning module, in which students sought to improve patents obtained by early telephone inventors like Alexander Graham Bell and Elisha Gray, using equipment similar to what was available at the time. The result was a collaborative learning environment in which students from a wide range of majors worked in teams, eventually producing a patent application. As part of the project, they were allowed to search historical materials like the Bell notebooks, which were made available on line. This experience gave them a better understanding of the invention and design process.

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