Active learning significantly improves students’ educational achievements as compared to passive learning [1, 2]. In Biomedical Engineering (BME), active learning can be incorporated through various techniques such as problem- and project-based learning . Such approaches lead students to deeper and more efficient retention of new concepts. During the past two decades, perceived self-efficacy has been increasingly considered as a highly effective predictor of students’ motivation and learning, as well as an important contributor to their academic development [4, 5]. Over the past two years, we investigated how project-based active learning techniques used in a biomedical computing class affected the self-efficacy of undergraduate BME students.
This study was carried out under an official exemption by the Institutional Research Board at the […] (university de-identified for the purpose of double-blind review). In our project-based learning approach, 3-member student groups were instructed to build a heart rate monitor/activity tracker using Arduino UNO microprocessors interfacing with MATLAB and MATLAB Mobile. In another section of this course with different students, a problem-based learning approach was incorporated, where 3-member student groups were instructed to design a biomedical-oriented problem statement, and push the boundaries of their acquired programming skills to solve that problem. Additionally, they were required to review five journal papers on a biomedical topic assigned to their group and present a short summary lecture. Seven-point Likert-scale anonymous surveys with 14 questions were collected prior to and following the project within all sections. Survey results from the problem-based group were used to control against other potential factors affecting perceived self-efficacy. Due to the anonymous nature of the surveys, unpaired t-test with significance level set at =0.05 was used to statistically compare the pre- and post-activity self-efficacy scores.
The following concepts significantly improved upon the completion of the hands-on project: clearer vision of programming application in engineering and in BME; believing in the necessity of programming in BME training; and higher expectation of success in a future BME career. Interestingly, problem-based learning did not indicate significant improvements in any of the investigated concepts, with lesser enhancements observed in the corresponding mean scores.
Problem statement design, literature review, and completing a hands-on project will all provide the students with a wide range of practical applications of the course material. Hands-on projects, however, have a higher impact on improving students’ perceived self-efficacy and expectation of success, as compared to problem statement design and literature review alone. All of the foregoing improvements achieved through the completion of hands-on projects have direct influence on students’ motivation, and would maximize the accomplishment of learning objectives.
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