International cohort overcomes obstacles to build virtual Dungeness crab

Feb. 24, 2021

Design cohort overcomes obstacles to build a virtual Dungeness crab

Working in isolation did not hamper graduate students’ successful international collaboration

Working as a team to overcome obstacles is the hallmark of the Collaborative Creativity for Social Innovation and Human-Centred Design program at the University of Calgary. And the COVID-19 pandemic provided this year’s cohort with a challenge like no other.

Each year, academic program co-ordinator Dr. Robert Kelly, PhD, tasks students at the beginning of this four-course Master of Education program with constructing life-size replicas of various creatures, to establish collaborative culture for later real-world projects that happen throughout the program. Past projects have included humpback whales, orcas, and giant lobsters.

Before grabbing cardboard, newspaper, string and masking tape and jumping into the building process, Kelly requires groups to first establish the principles they will follow to maintain a successful collaborative culture throughout each course in the program.

Learning to collaborate virtually

We missed the benefit of face-to-face socialization where trust is developed and students evolve to engage in empathetic and generative listening and interactivity,” acknowledges Kelly, an associate art professor in the Faculty of Arts and adjunct professor in the Werklund School of Education. “That said, this online COVID version has been truly extraordinary in adapting to constraint after constraint to the virtual environment with the pandemic constantly lurking in the background.”

Kelly’s initial plan was to have each cohort member remotely build a part of a Dungeness crab and then, when pandemic protocols allowed, physically assemble the pieces in the Taylor Institute for Teaching and Learning. When it became clear that this was not an option, he had to improvise.

“Realizing we had hit a wall and the physical wasn’t possible, I decided to pivot and adapt to this constraint by assembling the actual built components virtually.”

Each student photographed five different views of their constructed part — front, top, bottom, left side, and right side — and sent them to cohort member Megan Magee, who took the lead in the virtual construction. A secondary school teacher at the International School of Macau, Magee engaged her Grade 11 students to assemble the components virtually.

Creative solution to a pandemic design problem

While he had not envisioned enlisting support from secondary students across the Pacific Ocean, Kelly believes the finished product honours the intent and multi-disciplinary nature of the program.

“Successful resolution of our large design problem involved each cohort member recruiting diverse disciplinary expertise from art and design, science, engineering, etc., by developing local, regional and international collaborative innovation networks.”

Kelly believes the resolution was undeniably successful. “I was blown away by the students' work. Just when the TITL has been vacant for most of the year, a giant, virtual, Dungeness crab shows up in their foyer!”

“The Werklund School has led the development of innovative stackable certificates and credentialing pathways for more than a decade, so we were well-positioned to respond to changes in the learning environment necessitated by the pandemic,” says Dr. Ronna Mosher, PhD’07, director of professional programs.

Looking ahead, Kelly says he is not sure what the next iteration of the course will look like but says that the focus on applying skills learned to the real world remains unchanged. “It sets the grad students up to leverage this collaborative culture towards maximizing social innovations for real-world problems, such as the United Nations 17 Sustainable Global Goals or local or regional social innovation initiatives.”

The Werklund School of Education offers a variety of interdisciplinary topics for students to choose from to complete their Master of Education degree. Designed for working professionals, these online and blended programs are perfect for leaders ready to take the next step. Learn more.