2013 Formula Student – a critical review by Maxim Grew

As part of the Design Philosophy module on the final year of the BSc Product Design, students undertake a series of critical writing exercises. This year, the final years have been looking back at the 2013 Formula Student project – with each student looking at a different aspect of the process. We will be featuring a few of these short essays here on Created by US, starting today with Maxim Grew…  

race track

‘Take any group of A-level product designers, science buffs or tinkerers, tell them they can go to university, build a racing car with their friends in a big workshop and then race it at Silverstone. You’re only going to get one reaction, and it is this reaction that is so important; what separates engineering and design courses from almost any other is the vast opportunity to learn through playing games.

Formula Student shows this on an elaborate scale; teams of engineers, designers and media students from universities across the country compete to design and build a car, then race it around the track at Silverstone. But it is what is accidentally learnt along the way that has been so integral to using this ‘game’ to better the learning of students at the University of Sussex. This year’s team is lead by Sam Jewiss, an Engineering undergraduate. I managed to have a brief chat with him and asked what he thought about the educational value of the competition. His response clearly showed the value of hands-on learning; “the competition has taught us skills in other areas, for example finances are a big part of what I have to take care of this year. And for all of us team members, looking at having to design parts which not only work well, but are cost effective is something that certainly hadn’t been considered by us before when we are only creating theoretical designs”. Sam also went on to comment that people who get involved in the formula student event tend to do better overall in their degree, despite the extra workload.

Howard Gardeners book, Frames of mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences discusses how humans learn in a number of ways, in particular how tactile learning was so important during our evolution. So why is this type of learning not used across the university? Most subjects at Sussex are taught in a traditional lecture and seminar format. Yet how interesting would it be to get history students to re-enact the original Olympics, or Mathematicians spend an afternoon seeing who could build the biggest structure using only the properties of triangles? You could even get the economists to set up a faux stock market and see who comes out on top after a month. I think something we all have in common at university, no matter what subject you choose, is the desire to have fun and learn. The formula student project fulfils this desire perfectly, and is a fascinating example of the advantages to be gained from kinaesthetic learning’

(image via sxc, article by Maxim Grew)

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