Lassonde’s Education Innovation Studio enhances learner engagement

Lassonde School of Engineering contest

Since its launch in 2020, the goal of the Lassonde Education Innovation Studio (LEIS) has been to partner with professors and learners to tackle educational challenges, innovate modes of learning and positively impact experiences across three domains: elementary and secondary education; postsecondary education; and executive and professional education.

Salvatore Paneduro
Salvatore Paneduro

“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.

LEIS aims to do so through agile innovation processes by galvanizing a custom cross-functional team of learning experience designers, educational developers, e-learning developers, graphic designers, programmers, educational technologists and postdoctoral Fellows.

Among LEIS’ recent successes has been a collaboration with a professor who understands what the innovation studio is trying to do. “We were thrilled when Alidad Amirfazli, Chair of the Department of Mechanical Engineering, brought LEIS the challenge of finding new ways to achieve this in traditional theory-heavy courses.”

Alidad Amirfazli
Alidad Amirfazli

He and the LEIS team proceeded to experiment 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.

At the same time, Amirfazli worked with the LEIS team to design and run focus groups throughout the subsequent offering of this course, and capture feedback to be responsive to student learning experiences. However, positive results were quickly apparent. “The first time we offered students the opportunity to play this game, it was very interesting,” says Amirfazli. “None of the students were leaving the class despite the period being over; 15 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, noting that LEIS innovation continued 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.”

Amirfazli and LEIS’ goal to foster community and share work with other engineering educators will be realized when he presents on the course innovation at the 2023 Canadian Engineering Education Conference later this year. That goal is driven by a desire to ensure new modes of learning are adopted not just at Lassonde, but elsewhere. “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,” says Amirfazli.

The professor credits LEIS for promoting that type of thinking, and for enabling projects like the virtual escape room activity to be easy and viable. “Without LEIS, the change was likely not possible or would have taken a lot longer to implement,” he says.

Paneduro says he is excited for what’s next. “This is shaping a whole new approach to andragogy at Lassonde.”