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Engineering students get more resources to learn inclusive design

Learning and Teaching Grant program funds project to build accessibility into cornerstone course
By: Emily Graham
July 10, 2020
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The Learning and Teaching Grant Program is available to Ryerson faculty on an annual basis. Photo Credit: Unsplash.

If there’s one thing the pandemic has taught us, it’s that the delivery of course materials must adapt with the reality of the outside world. From incorporating accessibility and equity into curriculum, to enhancing learning with technology, Ryerson faculty members are improving students’ academic experiences. The Learning and Teaching Grant (LTG) program is an annual initiative facilitated by the Centre for Excellence in Learning and Teaching that supports projects to improve course delivery and develop inclusive teaching practices. Funded by the Office of the Provost and Vice-President, Academic, the LTG program also fosters projects that apply evidence-informed pedagogical methods to better the undergraduate and graduate student experience at Ryerson.

Making data more accessible 

Filippo Salustri and Patrick Neumann, professors in the department of mechanical and industrial engineering at Ryerson, received funding from the 2019-2020 LTG program to help students design with accessibility in mind. With past LTG funding, the professors increased the breadth and depth to which diversity and inclusion are baked into design education, particularly in MEC325, the cornerstone engineering design course for mechanical and industrial engineering undergraduates. For example, courseware was developed to ensure students were introduced to fundamental principles of diversity in design.

With this year’s funding, Salustri and Neumann aimed to address an associated challenge. Though students who took the course understand the need to design for diverse users, they still had difficulty finding accurate information that was accessible and understandable in the context of engineering design. “It became apparent to us that students were thinking naively about diversity and inclusion. Students designed for their own needs, rather than thinking of how their designs would help or hurt people who were different from them,” Salustri says. “Designing with that kind of mentality is irresponsible and we were compelled to address it somehow.”

Incorporating student feedback 

To combat this challenge, they enlisted the help of former student Erica Attard, who had completed the course in 2019. With Attard’s perspective, as well as student feedback gathered, the team developed resources and processes within the framework of the courseware so students could quickly find information that supports inclusive design and turn it into useful knowledge for their course work. Supporting documents were also created for TAGAs to help students in studio sessions. Grading rubrics were adapted to assess student performance on matters of diversity and inclusion. 

To improve course material and have it be an effective tool in education, it’s important to evaluate its effectiveness with students, says Attard. “The students’ experience with the course material is quite different from the professor’s,” she says. “Without my experience [in the MEC325 course] and the opinions of other students, it would be impossible to improve the course in a way that benefits student learning.” 

Students have reported that the new material has benefited overall learning. Further, Salustri says that, to his knowledge, MEC325 is one of the only cornerstone design courses in Canada that attempts to tightly weave human diversity aspects into the engineering design process. “This course presents a unique opportunity to influence Canadian engineering education for the better and in a more holistic way.” 

That said, there is more work to be done. “We want to try to better analyze next year's student project reports to see if there are any correlations between use of the material and student performance that are statistically significant. Based on what we find out, we expect to develop a number of other avenues to continue this work,” he says. “We remain hopeful that with some tweaking, we can make the material even better and more useful for students.”

For more information about the Learning and Teaching Grants Program, visit www.ryerson.ca/centre-for-excellence-in-learning-and-teaching/faculty-instructors/grants/.  

This is one in a series of stories about the new Ryerson Centre for Excellence in Learning and Teaching, the centre is dedicated to big thinking about curriculum, pedagogy and creative ways to develop inclusive teaching practices that enrich the student learning experience.

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