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Interdisciplinary, innovative, and insightful

[Building Better Together]
A team of engineering and occupational therapy students display their project during the final poster event for the Building Better Together course. The course was created through the Centre for Teaching and Learning’s inaugural Educational Leadership Initiative grant. From left: Robert Diebel (OT), Isaac Freda (Engineering), Akram Ghoudi (Engineering), Katie Fisher (Engineering), Elizabeth Gibson Crowder (OT) and Robyn Bernick (OT). (Supplied photo)

A new course created through the Centre of Teaching and Learning’s first-ever Educational Leadership Initiative grant has helped foster collaboration between students in occupational therapy and engineering in creating assistive devices for actual end users.

The instructional team of Claire Davies (Mechanical and Materials Engineering) and Elizabeth Delarosa (Mechanical and Materials Engineering), and Catherine Donnelly (Rehabilitation Therapy) and Susanne Murphy (Rehabilitation Therapy), developed “Building Better Together: An Interdisciplinary Approach to Teaching and Learning” with the aim of applying the Canadian Interprofessional Health Collaborative’s framework to an academic environment.

Through the course, offered during the 2016 Fall Term, students from occupational therapy and engineering teamed up to create an assistive device for an end user. The teams had to interact and collaborate with each other as well as with a person in need of an assistive device.

The course re-created the interdisciplinary environment many of the students will see in their professional careers.

“I think one of the key elements of this that made it realistic is that we actually had end users there that could respond,” says Ms. Delarosa, a doctoral student in engineering who is also a registered occupational therapist, adding that similar courses often offer simulated end users and case studies. As a result feedback is limited as is the interaction seen in the clinical setting. “In this case we got the end users in the classroom and the students could ask them questions and they could be answered.”

Through earlier studies, the team found that occupational therapists were interested in being more involved with the design process and engineers wanted to be more involved in interacting with the end users. Building Better Together offered both sides the opportunity to collaborate throughout the process.

The results were innovative and insightful.

“One end user said that she was so surprised at how well the students were able to create something from what she said,” says Dr. Davies. “Another one said just from the dialogue or conversation they had with the OT students and the engineering students, they became blurred, they didn’t know who were the occupational therapy students and who were the engineering students. It was interesting to see the relationships that were built too. Not just with the OT and engineering students but in regards to how the users were feeling comfortable to share ‘This is what I need and this is what I want, and how are we going to do this kind of thing?’”

The course was developed to mirror the workplace and provide the students with experiences that can be applied in their future careers. It was also informative for the instructors.

“It was interesting to see it was somewhat structured but when the students and the users got together it kind of unfolded by itself as well,” Ms. Delarosa says. “Certainly the OT students are encouraged to utilize their interview skills and clinical skills, and the engineering students were drawing on their design focus, what might be functional and all that. Interaction developed over time on its own. They didn’t tell the end users what to do and they interacted differently, some quiet, some seeking more guidance and others wanting to be actively involved in the process.”

With the inaugural course complete the instructional team is excited by the results and is looking forward to building upon the foundation that has been created.

“We’ve learned a lot,” Dr. Davies says. “We’ve learned that it can be done. We’ve learned that it takes a lot of time to try to get everyone on a similar page. We realized that it is very important to both disciplines to be better informed about the other discipline.” 

The Educational Leadership Initiative is aimed at supporting Queen’s students, faculty, librarians and staff who want to forge a new educational path. It is one of three grant programs offered by the Centre for Teaching and Learning, along with the Educational Research Grants and Teaching and Learning Enhancement Grants.

“This project and those involved exemplify what the Educational Leadership Initiative is hoping to promote,” says Peter Wolf, Associate Vice-Provost (Teaching and Learning) and Director of the Centre for Teaching and Learning. “The educators created a guided learning environment that brings together students across programs to help design solutions to everyday challenges faced by people in the Kingston community. The educators involved are also researching aspects of the course, presenting this model at conferences and engaging colleagues in discussions around this approach.”

The deadline for submission for the 2017 Educational Leadership Initiative grant is June 27.

For more information visit the Centre for Teaching and Learning website.