While wandering around a city, have you ever wondered how public benches are positioned perfectly to enjoy a majestic view, or who cleverly placed a picnic table within helpful reach of a power source? While much of urban planning can remain conceptual in the classroom, Dr. Su-Jan Yeo, Sessional Lecturer in the School of Community and Regional Planning, Faculty of Applied Science, is changing the learning game – she is helping students understand how to transform the urban environment and shape their community with a hands-on learning experience that has real-world impact.
As part of this approach, Dr. Yeo uses the innovative concept of an ‘Ideathon’ with her students, where interdisciplinary teams participate in a design challenge premised on real-world urban planning issues. Simply put, students are presented with a site-specific issue and invited to generate novel ideas within a defined timeframe. These ideas are shared with urban planning professionals, enabling students to influence local projects and see their impact beyond the classroom.
“I’ve always had a fascination for the urban environment, ever since I was a young child. As a course instructor, I want to share that sense of fascination with students and I try to do so by creating a unique experience where learning can come to life,” Dr. Yeo explains. With support from the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL) Seed Program, Dr. Yeo created the Ideathon, to help students understand how they can transform an idea into a reality. Students are given a project brief and tasked with analyzing the site, conceptualizing solutions, developing a vision, and proposing steps to implement their collective ideas.
Dr. Yeo’s Ideathon concept was inspired by hackathons (software design competitions), which became popular in the tech industry in the late 2000s. She watched as teams of computer programmers, user experience designers, and product managers worked together to find creative solutions. It made her wonder, how might this work in a classroom setting?
“I was so determined to incorporate a hackathon-like challenge in the course curriculum. Hackathons draw on the strength of collaboration and teamwork,” Dr. Yeo explains. “In urban planning, good outcomes are almost always the result of effective engagement and positive partnerships.”
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