By Cassandra Hendry, TLS staff writer

In one classroom, a group of undergraduate engineering students design a sustainable architecture plan for an aging heritage building in Gatineau, preparing a report to present to the building’s owner next week. In another room, a third-year student creates a computerized model to improve the way doctors see and treat concussion head trauma.

These scenes aren’t out of the ordinary on Carleton’s campus. In many programs, undergraduate students embrace both their logical and creative sides and experiment, conducting revolutionary research. Inside Carleton’s Interactive Multimedia and Design program for example, students are doing just that.

Ali Arya, an associate professor with Carleton’s School of Information Technology, has his students create multimedia projects, such as websites, computer games and animated film, throughout the year.

“Most of the skills we’re covering in our courses require creating something. The essay-type coursework just doesn’t work in our program. They have to make things,” Arya says.

This approach to learning also happens in associate professor Chris Joslin’s classes. One of his undergraduate courses covers backend server development to create dynamic web applications and experiences for users. His other two courses tackle 3D graphics and creating images from algorithms, in addition to more creative animation.

Unlike courses that are purely theoretical, where students don’t have the ability to research and develop new things, IMD courses thrive on experimentation. Arya notes that students learn and grow through their studies while producing products of value, such as when students collaborate with companies or community groups for projects or if faculty invite students to take part in extra-curricular advanced research.

Through NSERC’s Undergraduate Student Research Awards that Joslin facilitates through Carleton, he has been able to supervise a number of students in their research pursuits, many with outstanding results.

“Most of the students come out and publish a paper on their work. It’s fairly rare for an undergraduate student to publish before they graduate. It’s a great opportunity for them to do something fun and interesting at the same time,” Joslin says.

One student researched the measurement of how we capture light for endoscopic surgeries, to create better medical simulations for doctors. Another simulated how cartilage in the hip region compresses, providing doctors with more information during surgeries. These research projects have been presented at some of the top computer graphic conferences in the field Joslin says, an impressive feat for young students.

Some students have even commercialized their projects, including apps and computer games, once the learning objectives of the course are met, Arya says.

With all of these opportunities both in the classroom and out, Arya and Joslin agree that their students are exceptionally engaged in the course content.

“The practice shows them what they’re learning is of practical use,” Arya says. “They can see they’re gaining skills they can actually use, which gives students more encouragement and motivation and makes them more prepared for what they’re expected to do afterwards.”

Joslin sees this unique style of learning as a positive.

“They’re able to sit down and can make mistakes. They go in, try it out, see what works or doesn’t . . . our students go through that whole process. It doesn’t work for every program, but for us it’s so important.”