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How do you grab the interest of a classroom full of students who like working with their hands, then keep that interest throughout a whole course based largely on theory and research?
Tap into their passion and use it as a tool to educate, says SAIT School of Transportation instructor, Wade Anderson.
It’s an approach that emerged two years ago when students in the Automotive Service Technology (AST) program were asked what they thought would make their learning experience better. The answer came back loud and clear: “Give us the opportunity to use the skills we have learned.”
With this feedback in mind, the Vehicle Modifications course was created — a required course in the final year of the two-year AST diploma program.
The course introduces students to working with clients or car enthusiasts who want to upgrade the look or performance of vehicles they already own ― everything from engine performance upgrades to changes to vehicle ride height to brake system upgrades.
The course gives students three hours a week of class material, then builds on what they have learned in the first year by asking each student to choose the make and model of a vehicle they’d like to modify. Students are then randomly assigned a budget between $20,000 and $50,000 and, for the remainder of the course, they research and analyze possible vehicle modifications. Although the assignment is entirely theoretical, students must write a realistic proposal that gives their hypothetical clients the best value for their money.
The struggle, says Anderson, was trying to engage those students who aren’t typically inclined to theoretical education or research.
“My fellow instructors and I talked amongst ourselves and thought about our own experience in industry. We wanted to teach our students to be more successful once they graduate,” says Anderson.
So Anderson along with his fellow instructors Tara Winberg-Crooks and Jerry Kokot — all alumni of SAIT’s AST program — and Mike Roland, Academic Chair for the AST program, came up with a competition between the students in their three classes for the best vehicle modification plan.
At the end of the semester, students presented their plans to their instructors and peers. Two students from each class were chosen to present in front of six industry judges, who then picked one student’s plan as the best overall.
“If you look at the work that went in to each of the presentations, it was phenomenal,” says Anderson. “I am extremely proud of all of them and so are Tara and Jerry. The level of engagement is far higher than we expected.”
Chad Gibson took home the top prize this year. Gibson — who first graduated from SAIT’s journalism program in 2010 — has returned to his true passion in cars, and will graduate from the AST program in June 2016. He says this course and the competition have both helped him learn a lot about what it will take to be successful in the industry.
“It really taught me to apply myself,” says Gibson. “I was competing against 80 other students, so to come out on top is really rewarding. It took a lot of hours — a lot of late nights staring at the computer screen wondering what I was doing — but I learned so much.”
Rob Leech, owner of Tunerworks Performance Inc. in Calgary, describes himself as a car lover who turned his hobby into a successful business. Leech, one of the industry judges who attended this year’s competition, says the students coming out of school after taking a vehicle modifications course like this have a definite advantage over those who don’t.
“Generally anything to do with high performance upgrades had to be self-taught – it’s not something you would learn in the classroom,” says Leech. “This course offers a higher level of critical thinking that didn’t exist before. Students would normally come out of school knowing a lot about one area of a vehicle but not a good understanding of the whole picture and how one area may affect another. This program changes all that.
“As a person in the industry, I think courses like this are hugely important.”
Written by Alison O'Connor