Helping students innovate

A look back at Dal's first class in innovation

Amani Saini - Wed Jan 22 00:00:00 AST 2014

Students present their projects from the innovation course. (Provided photo)

Albert Einstein once said, “If I had an hour to solve a problem, I'd spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and five minutes thinking about solutions.”  

Spending time thinking about the problems ahead of the solution it is exactly what Dalhousie’s pilot “Innovation” course teaches students.

Guided by instructor Mary Kilfoil, the students in the interdisciplinary course employ their creativity, teamwork and innovation skills in order to identify and, hopefully, help solve everyday problems.

Read also: Light-bulb moments: New course gets students thinking about ideas

Fifty students and faculty gathered in the Rowe Building two weeks ago for the Faculty of Management's Open House to share the projects and ideas the course’s students have generated this semester. Ideas ranged from power solutions for bicycles to utilizing social media to get out the youth vote during elections; from helping drivers find parking spaces more quickly to preventing deaths from rip currents.  

One group of students imagined putting solar panels on bicycle handles so riders could charge their cell phones while on the road. After devoting time and energy to trying to building an effective device and then interviewing fellow students, they found there was little desired need for such a device. They realized that they had spent more time thinking about what to build rather than thinking about who would have use for their device.  According to the group: “Even though we failed, we feel more empowered because we learned new things and we know how to proceed the next time we have an idea.”

Identifying problems to make life easier for people is an important aspect of the new course. Students Justin Javorek, Cameron Sieffert; and Zhiwei (Chester) Li identified the need to create better communication between physicians and patients, as it is “currently inefficient and incomplete,” they suggest. They produced Foresight, a tool where patients can complete online profiles before going into their doctor’s office.  Patients can book appointments online, describe their symptoms and add questions they will have for the doctor — the sort of things they might forget in the moment at the doctor’s office.

“We talked to patients and potential users and they told us that this is what we want and they told us how they want the problem to be approached,” explained Justin.

There was positive reaction from the audience at the open house, as one gentleman happily commented, “Many times I call my doctor’s office and I’m told to call back later because the receptionist is busy on the phone and they do not check the answering machine. So, it is frustrating that my only option is to keep calling. I would definitely use this tool.”


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