Make Learning Fun with Contests and Challenges that Tie into Real-Life Projects

Autodesk Education
Autodesk Education September 10, 2021 4 min read

Have long-tailed macaques and cloud-based design ever struck you as a common pairing? While it may seem like a stretch, zoo animals in Indianapolis are indeed benefiting from cloud-based design solutions, thanks to students at Ivy Tech Community College. 

In 2020, Ivy Tech students tackled the distance learning game by participating in the Animal Enrichment challenge, a competition sponsored by Ivy Tech Community College and the Indianapolis Zoo. Students were tasked with using Autodesk® Fusion 360® software to develop a design solution that supports an animal’s natural behaviors and keeps them healthy by engaging their bodies and brains.  While scholarship money or a new laptop are big wins for any student, an even bigger win is Ivy Tech’s progressive choice to push the boundaries of learning, urging students to try something new.

Ivy Tech college student John Perkins holds his prized laptop after winning competition.

If zoo projects don’t inspire the innovator in your students, maybe high-end helmet design will do the trick. Diablo Valley College (DVC), a community college in the San Francisco Bay Area, used its relationships with local colleges to run a multi-campus competition in conjunction with a high-end bicycle racing company. The task? Design a racing helmet in Fusion 360. The company’s design director offered mentorship to students while Autodesk provided technical training and guidance in how to use Fusion 360 to model the helmets. Students ultimately benefited from the exposure to industry professionals, while the company gained better visibility in the design community.

Out-of-the-box learning

With a global pandemic and a switch to online learning under their belts, students and educators around the world continue to grapple with what it means to stay engaged in today’s learning environments. Academic institutions like Ivy Tech and DVC are redefining education by integrating out-of-the box learning like competitions into their curricula. This has resulted in a surge in student engagement and the revelation that learning doesn’t have to look like traditional desks and textbooks in a classroom. It can also look like long-tailed macaques, helmet design, and inquisitive engineering students.

Student competitions that align with a real industry need to have incentives for engagement built directly into the process. The learning itself is more engaging, with opportunities to apply theory to real-world projects. Winning teams are rewarded with a variety of prizes. And with submissions evaluated by a selection of industry judges, students get to expose their work ethic and output to potential future employers. 

How to run a student competition

In running a competition, educators can expose their students to real-world industry projects, giving them opportunities to apply their skills and ultimately better preparing them for the workforce. While it might sound complicated to run a design competition from scratch, it’s actually quite simple.

1. Identify who you want to partner with.

Think of an organization that inspires a design challenge for the competition you will be running. Or you could invite a nonprofit organization to judge project submissions on sustainable housing materials. Share with these potential partners the opportunity for local exposure, future hiring, and increased brand recognition among students. More importantly, think about how the organization relates to the design challenge of your choice.

2. Invite judges from the school and the organization of your choice.

Identify impartial judges on both the academic side and the organization’s side to commit to participating in the student competition and judging submissions.

3. Create goals, guidelines, and rubrics for judging.

While competition guidelines may vary from one competition to another, there are some foundational elements to keep in mind that can help standardize the process. Regardless of the design challenge students are tackling, consider requiring an exported copy of their Fusion 360 3D model file along with a printable PDF drawing page created in Fusion 360 that shows views and visualizations of the design. This way, judges can view project submissions even if they don’t have Fusion 360 downloaded onto their computers. Lastly, consider having students submit a one-page narrative describing their design process and how it directly relates to the stated competition goal.

4. Recruit students to participate.

Help your student community out by inviting them to participate in your competition. Remind students of the benefits of joining a competition, including skills and resume building, hands-on experience, and exposure to future employers. Encourage them to brush up on their design skills by accessing online Fusion 360 resources.

5. Judge submissions and reward best outcomes.

Strapped for time? Try these plug-and-play options.

Running your own competition can be a great way to engage with and learn from your students while choosing industry partners that are relevant to course material and future employment opportunities. However, it does take some leg work to get a competition off the ground. If you find yourself strapped for time, we’ve got you covered. Consider the following plug-and-play resources as you explore out-of-the-box learning environments that work for you.

Lastly, we want to hear from you. Have you had success implementing a student competition in your class? Have an interesting idea for a competition? Let us know in the comments section.

Best of luck!

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