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Board 20: Work in Progress: Biomedical Prototype Design in Collaborative Teams to Increase Students' Comprehension and Engagement

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2018 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Salt Lake City, Utah

Publication Date

June 23, 2018

Start Date

June 23, 2018

End Date

July 27, 2018

Conference Session

Biomedical Division Poster Session

Tagged Division

Biomedical Engineering

Tagged Topic


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Paper Authors


Kiersten Lenz University of New Mexico

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Kiersten Lenz is a graduate student at the University of New Mexico in Biomedical Engineering. She has previous experience as a secondary science teacher at the high school level. Based on her observations as both a teacher and a student, Kiersten believes that the most effective way to teach is through creative lesson plans paired with collaborative problem-based learning.

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Eva Chi University of New Mexico Orcid 16x16

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Eva Chi is an Associate Professor in the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering Department at the University of New Mexico. The research in her lab is focused on understanding the dynamics and structures of macromolecular assemblies including proteins, polymers, and lipid membranes. Undergraduates, graduate students, and postdoctoral scholars are trained in a multidisciplinary environment, utilizing modern methodologies to address important problems at the interface between chemistry, physics, engineering, and biology preparing the trainees for careers in academe, national laboratories, and industry. In addition to research, she devotes significant time developing and implementing effective pedagogical approaches in her teaching of undergraduate courses to train engineers who are critical thinkers, problem solvers, and able to understand the societal contexts in which they are working to addressing the grand challenges of the 21st century.

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Vanessa Svihla University of New Mexico Orcid 16x16

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Dr. Vanessa Svihla is a learning scientist and assistant professor at the University of New Mexico in the Organization, Information & Learning Sciences program, and in the Chemical & Biological Engineering Department. She served as Co-PI on an NSF RET Grant and a USDA NIFA grant, and is currently co-PI on three NSF-funded projects in engineering and computer science education, including a Revolutionizing Engineering Departments project. She was selected as a National Academy of Education / Spencer Postdoctoral Fellow. Dr. Svihla studies learning in authentic, real world conditions; this includes a two-strand research program focused on (1) authentic assessment, often aided by interactive technology, and (2) design learning, in which she studies engineers designing devices, scientists designing investigations, teachers designing learning experiences and students designing to learn.

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Linnea K. Ista University of New Mexico

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Heather Canavan University of New Mexico

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Recently, our department was awarded funding to revolutionize our engineering curricula by incorporating design challenges into as many of our courses as feasible. Integrating hands-on activities into course curricula has been shown to increase students’ investment in learning and perceived understanding of concepts [1], [2]. Additionally, active collaborative learning tends to improve comprehension outcomes when compared to traditional lecture methods [3].

Based on these educational principles, we restructured a biomedical engineering course that was primarily lecture-based to one that included team building activities, hands-on design challenges, and a final prototype design project. In-class group activities were designed to not only teach course learning objectives, but also to allow students to gain applicable engineering skills and make progress in their prototype design. The inclusion of these exercises decreased the total number of class hours that were devoted to traditional lectures. We are hopeful that this new course strategy will increase students’ engagement with and understanding of the material.

Data from this study was obtained in an undergraduate, shared credit (BS/MS), and graduate Biomedical and Chemical Engineering course (N = 26). The study was conducted in a classroom in a large research university in the Southwest over two years. Periodic assessments in the form of surveys, open-ended reflections, and homework assignments were used to gauge how students felt about the in-class activities. These assessments also checked for students’ understanding of course content and connection to the prototype design project. Traditional summative exams were given and compared to previous years in which design challenges were not used. End-of-semester online course surveys were also collected and compared to previous years.

Preliminary findings indicate that the integration of hands-on activities and the prototype design project positively influenced students’ feelings about the class and comprehension of course content. The students reported that the class structure helped them feel engaged with the material and allowed them to gain real-world skills such as task management and cooperation. When compared to the previous year, the students in the redesigned class had a higher average on the first summative exam, which covered the same material. As importantly, the instructor reported that she found a higher degree of satisfaction with teaching the course, due to the fact that frequent formative assessments gave her more opportunities to understand and address the students’ individual skills and limitations throughout the semester.


1. S. Blakey and J. McFadyen, “Curiousity over conformity: The Maker’s Palette- a case for hands-on learning,” Art, Design & Communication in Higher Education, vol. 14, no. 2, pp. 131-143, Jan. 2015.

2. J. Burgher, D. Finkel, O. Adesope, and B. Van Wie, “Implementation of a Modular Hands-on Learning Pedagogy: Student Attitudes in a Fluid Mechanics and Heat Transfer Course,” Journal of STEM Education: Innovations & Research, vol. 16, issue 4, pp. 44-54, Oct-Dec. 2015.

3. P. Ralston, T. Tretter, and M. Kendall-Brown, “Implementing Collaborative Learning across the Engineering Curriculum,” Journal of the Scholarship of Teaching & Learning, vol. 17, issue 3, pp. 89-108, July 2017.

Lenz, K., & Chi, E., & Svihla, V., & Ista, L. K., & Canavan, H. (2018, June), Board 20: Work in Progress: Biomedical Prototype Design in Collaborative Teams to Increase Students' Comprehension and Engagement Paper presented at 2018 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Salt Lake City, Utah. 10.18260/1-2--29982

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