?Smart Condo? team shares collaborative teaching award

Seven University of Alberta faculty members have come together to solve real-world problems, and they?re winning awards while they?re at it.

18 May 2011

Seven University of Alberta faculty members have come together to solve real-world problems, and they're winning awards while they're at it.

The University Teaching Awards Committee has awarded this year's Collaborative Teaching Unit Award to the Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine's Dr. Lili Liu, chair of the Department of Occupational Therapy, and her Smart Condo project team: the Department of Industrial Design's Robert Lederer and Greig Rasmussen; the Faculty of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences' Cheryl Sadowski and Lisa Guirguis, and the Department of Computing Science's Eleni Stroulia and Ioanis Nikolaidis.

The Collaborative Teaching Unit Award celebrates excellence in teaching among groups of instructors working together to create an outstanding learning environment.

Dr. Liu's collaboration began in the 1990's when a colleague approached her looking to give his industrial design students an opportunity to work within the health care sector. The instructors asked their students to start working together to design products for an aging population.

"Occupational therapists have a very creative approach to problem solving," says Dr. Liu. "But the opportunity to collaborate with industrial design meant we could get experts in the design field to make prototypes and design for the market."

Over 10 years, occupational therapy and physiotherapy students worked closely with industrial design students to come up with over 100 marketable solutions to the problems being faced by older adult populations. Sticking to the collaborative formula, Dr. Liu's team moved their focus beyond product design and into the broad scope of environmental design.

From there, the departments of Computing Science and Pharmacy joined the mix and the Smart Condo project was born. For three consecutive years, the students have collaborated to design a simulated living environment located in the University of Alberta's Edmonton Clinic Health Academy.

The course revolves around interdisciplinary teamwork among students, and helps clearly define each student's individual disciplinary role.

"It fosters and strengthens their disciplinary identities," says Dr. Liu. "The students gain a clear understanding of the overlaps or boundaries of each discipline."

The Smart Condo is also developing a community partnership with Edmonton's Glenrose Rehabilitation Hospital, enabling the students to work closely with practicing caretakers.

"The students get to see that the research they are doing is having a direct impact on the care that they will be providing. We incorporate our research with immediate and best practice."

The diverse team of instructors meets regularly to debrief and share observations. While the project is designed to meet the needs of each discipline's respective curricula, certain course requirements exist in order to encourage students to take the project beyond the classroom.

"The students do things collaboratively, meeting each individual course requirement, but the final project and the learning experience extends well beyond the interdisciplinary group work," says Dr. Liu.

This past year, students submitted an abstract of their final projects to the Festival of International Conferences on Caregiving, Disability, Aging and Technology (FICCDAT). Of the eight abstracts submitted, five were accepted through a peer-reviewed process.
Stephanie Warren, a second-year student in the occupational therapy program and one of Dr. Liu's students on the Smart Condo project, will be speaking at FICCDAT.

"It was great being a part of the conceptualization of new technology," says Warren. "We were able to come up with an idea and work with students in other disciplines to make it a reality."

Dr. Liu says there's enormous interdisciplinary potential for the Smart Condo project. The team is looking forward to getting back to collaborating when the Edmonton Health Clinic Academy opens its doors in the coming months.

"We want to build a larger research program and strengthen the interdisciplinary education opportunities. The Smart Condo project can only grow from here."

About the University of Alberta Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine

As the only free standing faculty of rehabilitation in Canada, the University of Alberta Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine balances its activities among learning, discovery and citizenship (including clinical practice). A research leader in musculoskeletal health, spinal cord injuries and common spinal disorders (back pain), the Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine aims to improve the quality of life of citizens in our community. The three departments, Occupational Therapy (OT), Physical Therapy (PT) and Speech Pathology and Audiology (SPA) offer professional entry programs. The Faculty offers thesis-based MSc and PhD programs in Rehabilitation Science, attracting students from a variety of disciplines including OT, PT, SLP, psychology, physical education, medicine and engineering.