During winter 2015, 24 students from 15 disciplines in 5 colleges at the University of Guelph took part in the first ICON classroom.

“We wanted to bring together undergraduate students in a truly transdisciplinary way, by breaking down silos while still allowing students to obtain credit towards their major”, said Dr. Shoshanah Jacobs (Department of Integrative Biology). Jacobs, along with Dr. Daniel Gillis (School of Computer Science) are co-creators of the ICON transdisciplinary classroom.

To take part in the classroom students were required to enrol in one of the many senior undergraduate independent study courses offered by each discipline. Working with their faculty advisors, students then submitted the Student-Advisor Checklist – which outlined a flexible set of course deliverables – to Dr. Jacobs or Dr. Gillis.

To address the array of disciplines represented in the classroom (spanning political science, geography, biological sciences, computer science, and more), students were first challenged to learn communication and knowledge mobilization skills. With these skills in hand, students worked in teams to apply their discipline expertise to address the broader sustainability issues of energy conservation, or food waste. Specifically, teams worked with Reid’s Heritage Homes to develop solutions to reduce energy consumption in NetZero homes by changing occupant behaviour, or to develop solutions to reduce food waste on campus through the Feeding9Billion Challenge.

“Despite the fact that students often learn in silos, most of the problems we face today are not discipline specific. We saw ICON as a way to address this.” said Gillis.

Nic Durish and Ross Kett were both students in the ICON classroom. When asked about their experience, Durish stated “The class completely changed the way I thought about learning, and helped me become more present in my education. More than anything ICON is an opportunity to apply your knowledge to an applicable and realistic problem.” Kett added “Being surrounded by students from so many different disciplines really opens up your ability to perceive problems from a bunch of different perspectives.”

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