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Assessment of an Improved Problem-Based Learning Implementation in a Senior/Graduate Mechatronic Design Course

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2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Seattle, Washington

Publication Date

June 14, 2015

Start Date

June 14, 2015

End Date

June 17, 2015





Conference Session

Microcontrollers, Programming, and Data Acquisition

Tagged Division

Mechanical Engineering

Tagged Topic


Page Count


Page Numbers

26.257.1 - 26.257.21



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Paper Authors


James A. Mynderse Lawrence Technological University Orcid 16x16

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James A. Mynderse, PhD is an Assistant Professor in the A. Leon Linton Department of Mechanical Engineering at Lawrence Technological University. His research interests include mechatronics, dynamic systems, and control with applications to piezoelectric actuators, hysteresis, and perception. He serves as the faculty advisor for the LTU Baja SAE team.

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Jeff Shelton Purdue University, West Lafayette

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Dr. Shelton studies human motor control in the field of point-to-point aimed movement. Having worked in industry for more than twenty years prior to starting work on his doctorate, he is interested in finding ways to align academic preparation with the activities commonly performed in engineering practice.

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Assessment of an Improved PBL Implementation in a Senior/Graduate Mechatronic Design CourseAs part of Lawrence Technological University’s six-year process to incorporate active andcollaborative learning (ACL) and problem-based learning (PBL) in the engineering curriculum,PBL was previously included in a Mechatronics design course. Following initial implementation,areas for improvement were identified, including inclusion of structured lab experiments withinthe PBL experience and direct assessment of student projects from the PBL experience comparedto previous class projects without important aspects of PBL. This paper details theimplementation of improvements to the PBL design experience as well as direct assessment ofstudent work as a class project and again as a PBL process.The Mechatronics course under consideration serves as an entry-level graduate course forstudents enrolled in an MS Mechatronic Systems Engineering program as well as a technicalelective for students enrolled in a BS Mechanical Engineering, BS Biomedical Engineering, orMS Mechanical Engineering program. Undergraduate students are typically traditional studentswhile the graduate students are split between international students who follow a traditionalschedule and domestic students who work full-time and attend one or two evening courses persemester. Thus the student population is diverse in background, degree program, and externalpressures.A real-world problem was developed to engage students in mechatronic design: disposal ofnuclear waste originally intended for Yucca Mountain. The project description, withoutspecifications or design constraints, was distributed to students within the first week of class. Bydistributing the project description early in the semester, students were frequently encouraged torelate concepts covered in lecture and lab sessions to the course project. This early adoption ofthe overall design problem marked a change from previous semesters.Students were exposed to mechatronic design through alternating lectures and structured labassignments based on the Arduino UNO platform which reinforced lecture topics with hands-onpractice. Topics included electronic systems (testing and analysis of circuits, transistors asswitches), computer systems (introduction to microcontrollers, finite state machines), andinterfacing computer systems with electronic and mechanical systems (microcontroller withanalog input and output, IR sensor integration with microcontrollers, DC motor integration withmicrocontrollers). Following completion of the lecture and lab portion of the course, studentswere placed into teams and given additional specifications and design constraints for the nuclearwaste disposal problem. Leveraging skills from the lectures and labs, student teams designedautonomous vehicles to locate simulated containers of nuclear waste and transport them to thedisposal location.Oral progress reports were used to keep students on track, gauge progress, and facilitateinteraction between groups. Student surveys were used to qualitatively assess the effectiveness ofthe PBL experience in teaching integrated design. Direct assessment using a rubric was used tocompare the effectiveness of the student designs to previous course iterations without PBL.

Mynderse, J. A., & Shelton, J. (2015, June), Assessment of an Improved Problem-Based Learning Implementation in a Senior/Graduate Mechatronic Design Course Paper presented at 2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Seattle, Washington. 10.18260/p.23596

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