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Assessing Challenge Based Instruction In Biomedical Engineering

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2002 Annual Conference


Montreal, Canada

Publication Date

June 16, 2002

Start Date

June 16, 2002

End Date

June 19, 2002



Conference Session

Assessment of Biomedical Engineering Programs

Page Count


Page Numbers

7.230.1 - 7.230.13



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Paper Authors

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Ann McKenna

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Main Menu Session 2218

Assessing Challenge-Based Instruction in Biomedical Engineering

Ann McKenna, Joseph T. Walsh, Jr., Matthew Parsek, Gülnur Birol

Northwestern University


As part of the NSF funded Engineering Research Center (ERC) VaNTH (Vanderbilt, Northwestern, University of Texas, and Harvard/MIT) we have revised courses in the Biomedical Engineering Department at Northwestern University. Various changes were made in the course content and structure to create opportunities for students to engage in solving realistic challenges faced in actual biomedical engineering practice. In addition, the classroom environment was restructured to support collaborative and reflective learning, and provide opportunities for students to practice skills expected in engineering practice. For example, students presented their findings, defended their positions, and debated with fellow students and faculty instructors their conclusions; such interactions allowed development of core engineering competencies. This paper provides an overview of the challenges and learning activities that were developed for three specific courses that have been implemented at Northwestern. We focus on the assessments used to measure student understanding of the scientific concepts, as well as the development of engineering skills. Studies were conducted in the domains of bio- optics and biotechnology over a one-year period. This paper describes how our assessment of the classes evolved over the year to build on lessons learned from previous classes.


As part of the VaNTH ERC Northwestern faculty have revised various courses to enhance the learning experience of students. The VaNTH engineering faculty recognize that courses should embed the subject matter in a practical context, foster the development of practical skills such as oral and written communication and teamwork, as well as teach the underlying scientific principles. The reason for embedding learning in context is based on a theoretical as well as practical stance. Learning and instructional theories explain that providing real-life contexts increases students’ interest, provides opportunities for students to apply their knowledge, and prepares students for situations they will encounter after graduation1,2. From a practical perspective, ABET has compelled engineering schools to re-examine their curricula and to make appropriate changes to align learning outcomes with the new criteria. Two relevant ABET criteria that have influenced our course revisions are that students should 1) ‘understand the impact of engineering solutions in a global and societal context’ and 2) have the ‘ability to communicate effectively’ 3.

The overall mission of the VaNTH ERC has also guided our work. Briefly, our task is to ‘innovatively provide students of the next generation with knowledge in bioengineering so they

“Proceedings of the 2002 American Society of Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition Copyright © 2002, American Society for Engineering Education”

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McKenna, A. (2002, June), Assessing Challenge Based Instruction In Biomedical Engineering Paper presented at 2002 Annual Conference, Montreal, Canada. 10.18260/1-2--10781

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