Each quarter at Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT), our course on innovation and invention gathers undergraduate and graduate students from as many disciplines as possible and attempts to do something none of us (including the instructors) knows how to do. Our methodology, modeled after business startups more than traditional academic courses, produces interesting inventions and remarkable learning experiences. We will report on the first four offerings of this course at RIT, and speculate on why it works as well as it does. Class begins by presenting students with a stimulating but vague challenge that can engage all the participants (e.g., “build a multi-person multimedia computer that surrounds people”) and then mapping and connecting students’ interests and expertise. Sub-projects form, develop, die and/or expand, through student collaboration and peer problem solving, as the class pushes toward an ultimate deliverable in which all participants can feel ownership and pride. Relatively unstructured and unpredictable multidisciplinary problem solving experiences can complement traditionally structured and predictable intra-disciplinary curricula. By collaborating across disciplines, students can deepen their understanding and broaden the application of hard-won discipline-specific knowledge and expertise. They can also learn to enjoy and endure the fine art of improvisational innovation and invention.

Date of creation, presentation, or exhibit



Innovations Unlimited, Washington, DC, March 19 - 21, 2009 National Collegiate Inventors and Innovators Alliance Note: imported from RIT’s Digital Media Library running on DSpace to RIT Scholar Works in February 2014.

Document Type

Conference Paper

Department, Program, or Center

Accounting (SCB)


RIT – Main Campus