Friday, October 19th, 2018

USM takes chance on innovative thinking with new project-based program

Computer science major James Tanner pilots a remote control helicopter using an Android tablet.
Alex Greenlee
Computer science major James Tanner pilots a remote control helicopter using an Android tablet.

Posted on April 29, 2012 in News
By Paul Koenig

USM is providing students with free rein in a sandbox-type lab that hopes to showcase the power of collaboration and creative thinking. The project will meld disciplines from both sides of the brain, bringing together faculty and students from arts, technology and engineering.

The project, Collaborative Innovation for Creative Intelligence, or (CI)², as it’s been dubbed is in a slightly amorphous form at this point. A handful of students have begun working in the lab on the fifth floor of the Science Building in Portland on an informal basis. One of those students, computer science major James Tanner, is currently working on connecting a remote control helicopter flown using a mobile device with virtual reality glasses — couple of the tools purchased for the lab.

Tanner said the lab serves as a place for students of disciplines not usually associated, to come together.

“It’s really great to have projects where everybody has key tasks and different ideas of how end products will look,” Tanner said. “It’s really exciting. I love it.”

Jan Piribeck, professor of art involved in the project, said in the professional world of art, design and technology, much is done through collaboration. The hope is for this project to provide that type of environment. She said it’s difficult to look at large issues as single person who might not have all the needed skills to implement the ideas.

Raphael DiLuzio, a professor of art and lead professor for the project, said they want to develop course work to help students think more creatively and look to innovate whenever possible.

“The lab is going to be really a place for students to experiment and is an experiment in itself,” said DiLuzio.

He said they’re trying to develop culture of eloquent failure where students will be willing to take risks without fear of failure. The key, DiLuzio said, is to put them in the mindset that there isn’t only one “correct” solution.

The university is allowing the program to form on its own, following a chief principle of the lab’s methodology. Students will be working over the summer on projects with faculty support, but the actual curriculum may not be developed till after the fall.

The creative intelligence project isn’t a separate program on its own. Faculty from various departments will be developing courses to fit in USM’s new core curriculum, likely including an entry level education course, or EYE, a mid-level course, and a capstone course that will likely take place in the fifth floor lab.

Members of the nine faculty team that includes professors from the arts, technology, engineering and computer science are in the process of applying for a National Science Foundation grant for additional funding.

Faculty developing courses will be given funding through a different grant awarded to USM to fund the design and implementation of the new core curriculum, according to Assistant Provost Susan McWilliams. The Davis Educational Foundation awarded the $350,000 grant to USM in 2008 when the university changed its core curriculum.

The program was given a budget of $50,000 per year, as well as $50,000 in start-up funds, according to Provost John Wright.

“His primary charge by us is to be interdisciplinary, pull faculty and students together and come up with innovative ideas and hopefully start businesses,” Wright said.

The funding for the project comes from the Office of Academic Affairs reinvesting money saved from the academic reorganization for a faculty line in the Art Department for DeLuzio and funds for the creative innovation center. The academic reorganization, approved by the University of Maine Board of Trustees in the spring of 2010, consolidated five USM colleges down to three, saving over $500,000.

“Because it’s an innovation center we don’t know what it’s going to be,” Wright said.

Piribeck said there have been discussions for awhile among faculty from art and technology about similar programs, but they lacked catalyst. Enter DeLuzio and the fifth-floor lab.

In fact, Piribeck and other faculty had been speaking with DiLuzio about developing programs for years before he came to USM. Lynn Kuzma, dean of the College of Arts, Humanities and Human Services, said DiLuzio had sent a concept paper to former-USM President Richard Pattenaude and former-Provost Joseph Wood about ten years ago. DiLuzio said he was inspired to reach out after hearing Pattenaude speak.

However, the universities couldn’t agree on a transfer, so it didn’t happen. Fast forward ten years or so, and Wright re-approached UMaine about transferring DiLuzio after USM successfully transferred a public administration professor from the flagship campus.

“He really always wanted to design his own program by scratch,” Wright said.

Piribeck said there will be a lot of discussions next year about how the creative intelligence methodologies will work within the curriculum of various programs.

“We want thinkers, not just people who are savvy with technology,” she said.

Tanner said him and the other students are planning on building new housing for the helicopter drones with a three-dimensional printer that may be purchased for the lab. Three-dimensional printers create structures by depositing plastic that hardens, similar to an ink jet printer. But for Tanner, this is only the beginning. The ambitious project he wants to work on involves connecting the virtual glasses to his motorcycle helmet.

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