When remote course delivery became a reality for the 2020 fall semester, Mojgan Jadidi knew she would need some support in turning her third-year course, ESSE3600 – GIS and Spatial Analysis, into a successful online experience, so the Lassonde assistant professor of geomatics engineering turned to the most likely source of assistance: the Lassonde Education and Innovation Studio (LEIS).
LEIS was established in the spring of 2020 as a way of assisting faculty at the Lassonde School of Engineering in bringing innovation into their classrooms. When the pandemic hit and instruction moved online, their work became highly valued. Jadidi is a member of LEIS, as well as a client.
“As an instructor, it’s important to give my students a learning journey, and LEIS sparked ideas about how my students could move smoothly toward applying their skills to something tangible,” said Jadidi. “Their expertise helped me design my course so that I could continue to use the flipped classroom mode once we return to in-class instruction.
“In working with LEIS, I realized that we also need to be very effective in our communications online and that students need a clear roadmap so they know what they are doing each week.”
In the flipped classroom approach, students are responsible for reading/watching the requisite informational material prior to attending class. Class time is used to discuss the concepts and theories or to work through problems that rely on what the students have learned themselves.
Jadidi asks her students to watch a series of short videos prior to attending class. They then solve problems or do exercises together or in break-out groups during a synchronous online class. The lab component of the class operates in similar fashion. Students spend the first portion of their lab time following structured lab instructions on their own. A live, synchronous lab follows, allowing for a discussion of their results and any problems they encountered.
Jadidi has also adopted a different approach to grading the course, focusing largely on competence-based assessment. Sixty per cent of the grade is based on a digital portfolio the students are required to create using COVID-19-related scenarios that also incorporate systems design, problem solving, GIS data science techniques and software, as well as equity, diversity and inclusion. There are three individual projects and a team project.
“We have both engineering and science students in the class, and they have different ways of looking at a problem and designing the solution,” Jadidi said. “They complement each other as they work together to create something new.”
The students tackle one of these digital challenges every three weeks, using the new knowledge they have accumulated during that period. First, Jadidi asks them, in a hypothetical scenario, to decide where to locate new hand sanitizing stations on campus; next, where a new COVID-19 testing centre should be built; and finally, how to make that testing centre accessible. The team project focuses on dealing with the disruptive COVID-19 situation to implement UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDG).
“These projects bring a lot of concepts and skills together and allow the students to apply their knowledge,” Jadidi said. “Although in this case, their ‘client’ is York University in a hypothetical scenario, this problem could exist anywhere, and they can apply what they’ve learned in their future career path.
“By the end of the term, they will have a digital portfolio that they can present to any employer.”
Jadidi says she hopes the class has given students skills that will assist them in their careers.
“They will know how to use data to solve problems, applying spatial data science techniques which should be useful when they seek informed decision making and optimal solutions,” she said.
She is delighted by the way her revamped course is unfolding and credits LEIS for helping her bring it to life online.
“At Lassonde, we’re always trying new educational methods to give practical experiences to the students,” Jadidi said. “We need to be innovative and move from traditional objectives to something new so students can learn.”
By Elaine Smith, special contributing writer