Blazing the Trail for Undergraduates at Autodesk’s IDEA Studio

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Six Olin students take up Residence at IDEA Studio during Intersession

I was impressed with the students' ability to quickly synthesize their ideas into progressively advanced versions of a learning system, said Kimberly Whinna, manager of the Autodesk IDEA Studio program.

Autodesk, a leader in 3D design, engineering and entertainment software, has established a flourishing relationship with Olin College of Engineering. The company is sponsoring a team of six Olin seniors who are working closely with its education group under the auspices of SCOPE, Olin's consulting capstone program. Autodesk was given a power team , interdisciplinary in every way, with backgrounds in areas including product design and development, system dynamics, computing, cognitive science, electrical and computer engineering and mechanical engineering.

Recognizing the value their varied backgrounds brought to Autodesk, the team – Maia Bittner, Marco Morales, Keerthik Omanakuttan, Hari Iyer, Andrew Pethan and Adam Kenvarg – sought to take its relationship with the company a step further. In October, they applied for residency at the Autodesk IDEA Studio. The IDEA Studio is home to many innovative projects that apply design-driven solutions to problems in business, society and the environment. Specifically, this team of Oliners set out to rethink the way self-paced learning can be integrated into a software product. Additionally, they were charged with proposing ways that would make it easier for students and professionals to build skills quickly, moving them beyond the status quo.

Fast forward six weeks and this unique group of Olin seniors became the first undergraduates to be accepted into the program and flown to San Francisco, Calif., to begin their six week intersession research project at IDEA Studio.

Being accustomed to tackling open-ended problems in a collaborative manner, a critical component of an Olin education, the team got to work answering some of the many questions that would help guide their research at IDEA Studio, such as how could they make it easier for people to learn without redesigning an entire program? How could they motivate people while providing direction and clarity? How can they design in a way that the community can contribute and grow to include people of all ages, backgrounds, skill levels and interests?

They spent a lot of time working with other departments within Autodesk to get answers to their many questions.

The team's research steered them toward incorporating gaming into software. As their time at IDEA Studio drew to a close, the team proposed—to a group of more than 120 Autodesk employees—a system that was infused with gaming design conventions like technology trees, and gaming metaphors like achievements and advancements. They sought to both make it easier to go from knowing nothing to building complex machines, and to make it easier for professionals who've hit a plateau in their skill level to know exactly what they need to do to achieve greater mastery.

"Working with Autodesk and at IDEA Studio was a really amazing experience," said the Autodesk team communication lead, Hari Iyer. "We learned first-hand the importance of collaboration and innovation. Using the project management skills we acquired at Olin we were able to apply them directly to our research at IDEA Studio and come up with viable solutions for Autodesk!"

They made quite an impression.

Kimberly Whinna, manager of the Autodesk IDEA Studio program, said "I was impressed with the students' ability to quickly synthesize their ideas into progressively advanced versions of a learning system. Additionally, Marco's articulate delivery of the results during the research presentation was outstanding, and he left his audience inspired."

Since departing San Francisco the team has received calls from several different groups within Autodesk who would like to brainstorm with students and faculty on possible areas of further collaboration.

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