The middle two years of the four-year undergraduate experience is one of the most critical “target points” to successful professional formation of engineers. Instructional interventions that engage the students and improve student success as well as retention at this target point are therefore vital. We proposed to enhance and expand experiential learning modules in the domains of biosignals and systems analysis and experimental design. There are two reasons behind this choice. First, most fundamental courses in several engineering majors offered during the middle years cover concepts in those domains. Second, these areas were rated highly among the seventeen engineering, biology, and physiology domains by representatives in academia and industry in the VaNTH (Vanderbilt-Northwestern-Texas-Harvard/MIT) Key Content Survey that focused on identifying key concepts that all undergraduate biomedical engineers should know.
The overall goal of this three-year exploratory project is to support the adaptation, implementation, and dissemination of best practices in experiential learning. To accomplish this goal, we focused on a three-quarter course sequence at XYZ’s Department of Biomedical Engineering and a two-course sequence at ABC’s Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. Students typically start these series of engineering fundamentals in their junior year. Both course sequences teach similar topics (circuits, signals and systems, modeling, instrumentation) that are geared towards building quantitative and computational skills. Both course sequences use portable lab kits and software that can be set up anywhere. Key activities will comprise: 1) assessing the strengths and weaknesses of XYZ’s three-course sequence in terms of the How People Learn (HPL) framework and assess how student experiences and outcomes in this sequence are linked to those attributes of the course; and 2) expanding experiential modules for broader adoption and implementation.
One of our challenges is to evaluate the current courses for the learner-centered, knowledge-centered, assessment-centered, and community-centered aspects of the HPL framework. Then, where these courses fall short, to shore up those elements or make it easier for faculty implementation. A second challenge in this project is designing instructional challenges and supports that work well for courses with different lab kits and different software, and with demographically different groups of students. If this can be done, we expect that it will be easier for other institutions to adopt the materials we create, broadening our project’s applicability.
During the first two years of the project (Fall 2015 – Spring 2017), we evaluated learning of course concepts, learning preferences, engagement, application of material in subsequent courses in their respective sequences, and transferrable skills between courses. The knowledge will guide future design or development of new interventions and their dissemination strategies during the third year of the project.
The broader impacts of this work will be the advancement of knowledge regarding: how to support successful adaptation of experiential modules across different curricula, engineering disciplines, institutional culture, and student population; how to engage research-focused faculty in curricular reform; and how different institutions adapt organizationally to sustain the implemented courses.
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