July 10, 2019

Frazzled brains, fantastic ideas

Integrated Learning Stream breaks out of traditional classroom and turns electrical engineering semester into exercise in ingenuity and teamwork

There’s a white cane that sends sound clues to a sight-impaired owner, and a machine that responds to an unsettled baby with soothing noises and lullabies.

Nearby, a handheld practice device mimics the valves of a trumpet, and then there’s a room-finding contraption to demystify confusing buildings: just punch in the room number and listen to the directions.

Audio-based ingenuity abounds at this end-of-semester design fair where students are showing off what four months of brainstorming, teamwork and hands-on creativity can accomplish.

Five courses, one new way of learning

It’s called Integrated Learning Stream, and over a single semester, 34 students, five instructors, eight teaching assistants and a technician transformed five traditional electrical-engineering courses into a unified exercise in learning, leadership and collaboration.

“I believe that the whole term was a highlight. This semester has been the most enjoyable of my university career,” says Guillaume Raymond-Fauteux, one of the students in the pilot program.

“It has taught me to be self-reliant, a better team worker, and due to be being able to gain a better relationship with professors, better appreciate the subject of electrical engineering.”

Unified, goal-based strategy

If the physical results of Integrated Learning Stream are unique, so was the plan to teach electrical engineering in a unified, goal-oriented manner.

As well as producing a plethora of interesting audio-based engineering inventions, Dr. Mike Potter, PhD, says the program was a major success in getting students to understand the big picture behind five courses that are traditionally separate.

“We took the curriculum of five disparate courses and integrated the content, took a cohort of students into an unfamiliar university environment of flexible scheduling, dedicated workspace and equipment, and frazzled brains, and made it all work one way or another,” explains Potter, professor of Electrical and Computer engineering.

“As student, TA, and instructor reflections have testified, the result has been remarkably rewarding.”

Project pitch wraps it all up

Integrated Learning Stream covers the topics of signals, circuits, electronics, computer organization, and engineering design, in a manner that integrates the content by tying the learning to a semester-long project.

At the end, student teams pitch their term projects (audio players and variations on a theme) which represent the culmination of the integrated curriculum.

“Student groups demonstrate the prototypes they’ve built, and we take some time to celebrate all of the hard work that everyone has put in,” says Potter.

For the students who took part, Integrated Learning Stream was a whole new way to look at engineering.

“The whole objective of the ILS program is to connect the concepts between courses and to illustrate how they are all connected. I feel this is an important skill to have and I will use it in my future line of work,” says Cameron Faith.