Introduction: Biomedical engineers today often work with industrial designers (IDs) to understand unmet needs and improve healthcare ,. In industry, engineer and ID subteams complete tasks together but also independently to generate separate-but-related deliverables . Few university courses offer Biomedical Engineering (BME) students the opportunity to develop solutions with industrial design (ID) students. A previous BME and ID multi-disciplinary capstone course at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) embedded one ID student within each group of engineers, which led to an underutilization of ID skills and a poor representation of the real-world work dynamic. Our aim for the 2019-2020 school year with this course was to address healthcare challenges, while better 1) leveraging ID curriculum (objective 1) and 2) mimicking the communication dynamic of the medical device industry (objective 2).
Materials and Methods: During 2018-2019 and 2019-2020 years, 4 and 6 IDs worked with 50 BME students on 4 and 6 projects, respectively. Team assignments leveraged the Comprehensive Assessment for Team-Member Effectiveness (CATME) system ,. The 2019-2020 course incorporated ID-centered assignments and restructured each project team to consist of an engineer subteam (3-4 students) and an ID subteam (2 IDs). Subteam communication to distribute work was orchestrated by one student from each discipline. Each ID student was involved with 2-3 projects but acted as the point of contact for one. The course teaches needs exploration and the design process presented in Biodesign: The Process of Innovating Medical Technologies . During the fall semester, project teams identify a need and generate a project timeline and early prototype. In the spring, students produce a fully functional prototype and demonstrate it validates their needs. In pursuit of objective 1, fall 2019 required ID students to lead stakeholder interviews and make concept sketches. In spring 2020, IDs further provide a logo, product-user storyboard, and webpage. Like the previous year, 2019-2020 ends with a poster presentation and a report. CATME peer evaluation data reported whether students believe team members i) possessed related knowledge, skills, and abilities and ii) contributed to deliverables (objective 1). It also rated subteams’ communication relative to 2018-2019’s embedded teams (objective 2). End-of-semester reflections for both years and a fall 2019 survey further characterized the nature of task allocation and communication.
Results and Discussion: Specific to objective 1, fall semester CATME data reported that point differentials between engineers and IDs, where engineers always scored higher, were slightly but not statistically less using the subteam structure (two-sided t-test, α = 0.05) for i) relevant skills and ii) contribution to work scores. The skillset score yielded BME vs ID percent difference of 8.6% in fall 2018 vs. 6.7% in fall 2019. The minor decrease suggests that the subteam vs. embedded designer structure only somewhat better utilized the ID students’ skillsets. The contribution to work score had percent differences of 15.1% in fall 2018 vs 5.0% in fall 2019. Thus, students found that the IDs were able to individually contribute more to the team’s work, but not to a numerically significant extent. Engineer survey responses reported that 86% of engineers believe IDs had at least a slight benefit on the quality of fall deliverables. Specific to objective 2, 90% of engineers reported subteams communicate at least biweekly and 33% at least once/week. IDs recommended for next year that ID students partner-up and take on no more than 2 projects to simplify scheduling. 66.7% of all survey participants viewed the subteam communication dynamic as similar and 33.3% as dissimilar to industry. Most liked interacting with the ID subteam, but some thought IDs did less work were not necessary for the fall. The instructor could decrease ID course units for the fall, but data overall emphasizes IDs should be a part of both semesters.
Conclusions: Data to-date suggests the new deliverables slightly enabled ID students to leverage their curricular training and elevate project quality for the fall semester. Additional ID assignments may be needed or less course units awarded to the ID students to balance the fall workloads between subteams. ID students will likely be limited to two projects in the future to simplify scheduling and allow for a deeper vs. broader understanding of BME work. Most students agreed that the subteam communication dynamic mimics what they have experienced or anticipate they will experience in the medical device industry. Spring 2020 data and follow-up surveys to alumnae will soon offer additional insight.
Acknowledgements: Financial support was provided by CMU (Dept. of BME and Undergraduate Research Office) and four companies: Bayer, Biomotivate, Medtronic, and Organoid Therapeutics
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