Feature Stories

Richard Foulds on Studio Learning

Richard Foulds in the lab

It’s every kid’s dream: getting an A for playing with your food.

In Associate Professor Richard Foulds’s biomedical engineering class, students perform angioplasties on pasta and amniocentesis on jelly donuts. They reattach the tip of a hot dog with tiny robots. It’s all part of a groundbreaking teaching technique called studio learning.

Studio learning has been used for years in architecture and art classes, but never in engineering, where conventional teaching methods involve a lecture followed by a recitation and a lab experiment.

"You will never see students in my studio classes asleep in the back of the room,” says Foulds. “You’ll see their faces lit up with curiosity, inquiry, and an active desire to learn.”

For the hot dog surgery—which has obvious links to finger-reattachment surgery—students work in small groups to program LEGO Mindstorm robots with nearly 1,000 gears, levers, motors, and sensors. Foulds and his teaching partner, former neurosurgeon Bruno Mantilla, race around the room answering questions and offering advice.

“Children are naturally inquisitive, creative,” says Mantilla. “They ask questions. They explore the world with their hands. Yet too often when they get older and start school they are told, ‘Stop asking questions, stop touching, and start learning.’”

Foulds is a founding fellow of the American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering and a fellow of the Rehabilitation Engineering Society of America, but nothing compares to his most recent honor, being named Teacher of the Year by the NJIT Student Senate.

“It tells me that I have done the job I came here to do and that our students appreciate my efforts,” says Foulds. “Nothing could make me happier.”

(By Robert Florida, University Web Services)