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College collaboration creates children’s museum exhibits

Elisabeth Weems and Colleen Carow | Feb 5, 2018
Fasttrak

College collaboration creates children’s museum exhibits

Elisabeth Weems and Colleen Carow | Feb 5, 2018

Undergraduates in the Russ College of Engineering and Technology and the Patton College of Education have fused their specialties to design and manufacture interactive educational exhibits for the Ohio Valley Museum of Discovery.

Neil Littell, assistant professor of engineering technology and management (ETM), who teaches a production design course (ETM 3100), and Sara Hartman, assistant professor of teacher education and both co-founder and board president of the museum, who teaches an early childhood social studies methods course (EDEC 3500), brainstormed the idea in a coffee shop a few years ago. They agreed that giving students exposure to cross-disciplinary perspectives was important, and the rest is history: Their students have been collaborating for three years now.

“We realized that there aren’t really mechanisms in place to facilitate these types of collaborations, so Dr. Hartman and I decided we would build this experience,” Littell said.

The two courses met multiple times to discuss designs, ask questions, and receive feedback about museum exhibits, which function to teach children concepts like magnetism and physics in a fun and creative way.

“One of students’ goals was for the exhibit to be as open-ended as possible,” Hartman said, adding that each creative exhibit has multiple ways for children and adults alike to engage with it.

Students are now building two designs – a race track and a magnet maze table game. A Patton College outreach grant funded the materials, and the Russ College is providing the lab space, tools and labor.

Seth Doudna, a first-semester industrial systems engineering masters student with a specialty in human factors engineering and ergonomics, worked with ETM alumni Trevor Lang and Keenan Robertson, and Patton College alumni Brianne Henry, Claire Hutchins and Caitlynn Jones, to design Fasttrak, a 4-by-7-foot race track.

Doudna said his most valuable lessons were patience, open communication and compromise, added that collaborating with students outside of his major gave him a better understanding of how to apply cross-disciplinary teamwork in the professional field.

They used SolidWorks to create a 3-D model, then converted it into computer code to guide a Laguna CNC Router machine, which burns the design into wood.

“It was a team effort,” Doudna said. “Engineering is very team-based, and this project forced us to work outside of our respective disciplines and collaborate with other people.”

Hartman noted that such a collaboration requires a commitment not just from the students and instructors -- but also from each department and college, to work together.

“Students need to be able to work effectively with other people,” Hartman said. “It is really an important skill for them, and being able to do it in this context gives them an added experience that is really valuable. In the real world, content areas don’t really exist in such isolation.”

That experience is now coming to life, as Doudna is fabricating Fasttrak with John Haftman, an ETM alumnus and current ISE master’s student with a specialty in civil engineering. It’s in its final stages and will soon be on its way to installation at the museum.

“This has become more than just something we were working on for a class,” Doudna said. “It’s one thing to design something, and another to actually manufacture it and bring it to life. It has come full circle.”

Anna Hartenbach contributed to this story.