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Bringing education to life at Lassonde in creative ways

Lassonde’s Education Innovation Studio (LEIS) partners with professors and learners to tackle educational challenges and positively impact experiences across three domains: elementary and secondary education; post-secondary education; and executive and professional education.

“Together with our faculty, we are developing new ways of learning through multifaceted immersive experiences that bring education to life and enhance learner engagement,” says Salvatore Paneduro, Director of Educational Innovation. “We were thrilled when Alidad Amirfazli, Chair of the Department of Mechanical Engineering, brought Lassonde’s Education Innovation Studio (LEIS) the challenge of finding new ways to achieve this in traditional theory-heavy courses.”

Lassonde’s Education Innovation Studio partnered with Professor Amirfazli and galvanized a custom cross-functional team of learning experience designers, educational developers, e-learning developers, graphic designers, programmers, educational technologists and a postdoctoral fellow to tackle the challenge through an agile innovation process.

Professor Amirfazli’s core value of collaboration in knowledge mobilization ensured that what would be created could be used across the Mechanical Engineering department. His goal to foster community and share his work with other engineering educators meant the team itself would adopt a community-based learning approach to the project to ensure the end products would increase the value of education in the discipline.

To start, the team experimented with the Fluid Dynamics course by introducing a virtual escape room classroom activity. Students used their laptops to navigate avatars of themselves through various spaces—campgrounds, a casino, a museum—where they hunted for clues. These clues were questions relating to course concepts, and each time they answered correctly, they earned “fluid dollars.” They then redeemed this digital currency for a real-world treat—a mini Caramilk or Dairy Milk chocolate.

“The first time we offered students the opportunity to play this game, it was very interesting,” says Professor Amirfazli. “None of the students were leaving the class despite the period being over; fifteen minutes after class ended, they were still playing. This usually never happens! In fact, I’ve never experienced this in more than 20 years of teaching.”

“The more dynamic, interactive and immersive experiences got the students excited about learning and created an opening of possibilities for Alidad,” says Paneduro. “From there, Alidad and the team designed and created brand new ways of assessing students through concept mapping and infographics. It was so exciting to see the team working to re-invent what assessment and instruction could be in Mechanical Engineering education.”

“We need to meet students where they are,” says Professor Amirfazli, who will be presenting on the course innovation at the 2023 Canadian Engineering Education Conference. “How are we going to connect with students who are largely visual, and not very interested in, or accustomed to through their K-12 education, the traditional way of acquiring knowledge, which means reading a textbook? We cannot be static and keep doing the same thing. We need to be more creative in our methods. Without Lassonde’s Education Innovation Studio, the change was likely not possible or would have taken a lot longer to implement.”

Amirfazli worked with Lassonde’s Education Innovation Studio team to design and run focus groups throughout the subsequent offering of this course, and capture feedback to be responsive to student learning experiences.

“The exciting part for me was seeing how this experience has also sparked new ways of teaching for Alidad,” says Paneduro. “He is not afraid to try new things and take risks, and this is shaping a whole new approach to andragogy at Lassonde.”