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Evolution of Biomedical Engineering Students’ Perceptions of Problem Solving and Instruction Strategies During a Challenge-Based Instruction Course

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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

Active learning in BME, Session II

Tagged Division

Biomedical Engineering

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Paper Authors


John R Clegg University of Texas, Austin Orcid 16x16

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John R. Clegg is a Ph.D. candidate and NSF Graduate Research Fellow in the Department of Biomedical Engineering at the University of Texas at Austin. He received his B.S. in 2014 and M.S.E in 2016 from the University of South Carolina and University of Texas at Austin, respectively, both in Biomedical Engineering. He received an M.A. in STEM Education from the University of Texas at Austin in 2018.

His dissertation research involves the development of synthetic and natural-synthetic hybrid biomaterials for molecular recognition and targeted drug delivery applications. Additionally, John is interested in the development of new instructional methods tools to both teach Biomedical Engineering in the classroom and laboratory and assess the efficacy of such strategies.

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K. R. Diller University of Texas, Austin

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Kenneth R. Diller is a Professor of Biomedical and Mechanical Engineering and the Robert M. and Prudie Leibrock Professor in Engineering at the University of Texas at Austin. He has been on the faculty at UT for 45 years. He was the founding Chairman of the Department of Biomedical Engineering at UT Austin, UT MD Anderson Cancer Center, and UT HSC Houston, and is also a former Chairman of the Department of Mechanical Engineering. Dr. Diller is an internationally recognized authority in heat and temperature related processes in living tissues and how they may be applied in the design of therapeutic devices. His first studies in the 1960’s were related to the frozen banking of cells and tissues for transplantation. He has also pursued advanced analysis of burn injury occurrence and treatment and the application of thermal therapy for cancer. Currently he is focused on the use of temperature manipulation to enhance the healing of injured soft tissues, the development of a new generation of safer and more effective devices for lowering body core temperature in patients with major organ ischemia as caused by cardiac arrest, stroke, or traumatic brain injury, and creation of a thermal microenvironment for beds to improve the ability to sleep well. He has published more than 280 refereed papers and book chapters and written or edited seventeen books. His research has led to about three dozen patents and the formation of two medical device companies. He has been faculty advisor to the UT student organization Christian Students on Campus for more than 40 years while mentoring thousands of students therein. His teaching has been focused on courses in Biotransport and BME Senior Design, plus a university-wide course for incoming freshmen on the topic Science and the Bible. Professor Diller is a graduate of Ohio State University (BME with honors, 1966; MSc, 1967) and MIT (ScD, 1972).

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Collaborative teams of engineers and learning scientists have developed challenge-based instruction modules for a number of Biomedical Engineering (BME) courses, ranging from optics to microbiology, biotransport, and biomechanics. A hallmark of these modules is a fundamental shift away from students’ memorization of factual knowledge, instead emphasizing the skills necessary to apply the new content innovatively. One key piece of anecdotal evidence employed to block the development and implementation of additional challenge-based courses is students’ resistance to the new and/or unfamiliar pedagogy. We addressed this common narrative by assessing students’ opinions toward both completing open-ended challenge problems and the components of a self-determined ideal biomedical engineering course at regular intervals during a challenge-based biotransport course.

Two biotransport courses were studied (29 and 21 students), where the first author conducted and analyzed all observation and survey data and the second author was the course instructor. While both courses utilized the same textbook and challenge problem sequence, one was offered as an accelerated study-abroad experience, and one was offered on-campus during a standard semester. Before, during, and after the challenge-based instruction course, students identified that the open-ended challenges characteristic of the instruction model were motivating, engaging, and interesting. Students also consistently preferred homework and examination problems that were derived from the real world, required creativity, and were solved collaboratively within teams. Over the length of the semester, students’ found the challenge-based instruction model to be less stressful than their previous classes, became comfortable and assured in their individual abilities to solve challenge prompts, and became more comfortable with the existence of multiple correct answers to an engineering problem. Students were significantly more confident in their ability to complete challenge prompts derived from biotransport, biomechanics, or content of a course taken previously following completion of challenge-based biotranpsort. Observation of student engagement, as a function of student and professor activity, revealed that aspects of the challenge-based instruction model (i.e. challenge solving, group work) significantly enhanced student engagement in the class. In a manner consistent with published literature on challenge-based instruction in engineering, students demonstrated concurrent development of content expertise and innovative problem solving ability during the course.

We believe the present study provides substantial quantitative and qualitative evidence to support the efficacy of challenge-based instruction for conveying technical content and establishing relevant real-world application skill in biomedical engineering courses. Our results affirm that students prefer many aspects of challenge-based instruction to lecture pedagogy. Furthermore, students’ opinions of challenge-based instruction and problem solving broadly increased in favorability over the duration of the semester. Beyond suiting student preferences, challenge-based instruction strategies also enhanced student engagement during in-class activity. From a perspective of education policy, we believe these results support the increased incorporation of challenge-based modules in new and evolving biomedical engineering classes.

Clegg, J. R., & Diller, K. R. (2018, June), Evolution of Biomedical Engineering Students’ Perceptions of Problem Solving and Instruction Strategies During a Challenge-Based Instruction Course Paper presented at 2018 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Salt Lake City, Utah. 10.18260/1-2--30458

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