#FunTimesWithTheTA – A Series of Fun, Supplementary Lessons for Introductory Level Biomedical Instrumentation Students (Work-in-Progress)
Obtaining competency in engineering design requires hours of hands-on practice beyond the time and scope of a university course1. As a result, we are pilot testing a series of supplementary active-learning experiences for an introductory instrumentation course in a Biomedical Engineering program. The active-learning experiences were implemented as a subsection of normally scheduled office hours with the Graduate Teaching Assistant (GTA). The experiences were offered to students on a voluntary basis with no added incentive other than they were fun and practical ways to learn. The experiences reinforced iterative techniques in circuit design, measurement, and analysis taught in the weekly lab activities. The aim was to provide a low-risk, low-stress opportunity for students to practice their circuit designing skills without fearing how their performance may affect their grade. Subsequently, the students can explore new and more challenging topics with more freedom and flexibility. Additionally, by incorporating the use of hashtags into the active-learning experiences, students can share their creativity with social media and engage in the growing “maker” community as a means to continue their learning.
For the first installment of #FunTimesWithTheTA, students built PulseSim, a Finger Photoplethysmograph (Heartbeat) Waveform Simulator. PulseSim was originally developed by a GTA as a hobby project and published on Instructables.com, a popular platform for presenting “Do-It-Yourself” and “How-To” projects. The original Instructable was adapted to reflect the learning outcomes of the Biomedical Instrumentation course. Students were provided with a set of instructions on building the components of the circuit. Before the students began building, a short description of the lesson was presented, providing the basis of the circuit design, functionality, learning outcomes, and real-world applications for the technique. The students were divided into pairs, allowing each student to have meaningful input into the construction of the circuit. Each group built and tested a part of the circuit and combined their respective parts together and observed the result on an oscilloscope. For future installments of #FunTimesWithTheTA, students will build PulseFit, an auto-calibrating optical heart rate monitor. Students will be introduced to sensors, such as photodiodes, that are used in biophysiological measurements.
We will assess how #FunTimesWithTheTA increases the academic performance of students in the course compared to students who did not participate. Due to the introductory nature of the class, we will assess how well the students operate the basic instruments in the lab such as the oscilloscope and function generator, and how well students are able to analyze circuit diagrams and build a working circuit. We will also assess students by means of surveys to qualitatively gauge their progression in the course. We hypothesize that the supplementary lessons will increase student performance in the course as well as increase their comfort level with circuit design in future classes such as Senior Design.
1. Dym, C. L., A. M. Agogino, O. Eris, D. D. Frey, and L. J. Leifer. Engineering design thinking, teaching, and learning. J. Eng. Educ. 94:103–120, 2005.
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