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Guided Modules Emphasizing Process-Based Troubleshooting Techniques Help Below-Average Performing Students Improve Instrumentation Skills

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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

Hands-On Skills in BME

Tagged Division

Biomedical Engineering

Tagged Topic


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Paper Authors


Renata Fortuna Ramos Rice University

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Renata Ramos is an Associate Teaching Professor and the Director of Undergraduate Studies in the Department of Bioengineering at Rice University, 6100 Main St., Houston, TX 77005:

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Instrumentation laboratory courses commonly focus on the design and development of novel technologies. Students work to develop the technical skills necessary to design and build circuit systems and their associated software, but often lack practice in troubleshooting skills and device testing and optimization. While the design of new devices is often more attractive to students, understanding how devices fail and learning structured ways to test and repair failure points is an important aspect of engineering design.

To address this limitation, seven self-contained modules were developed to reinforce troubleshooting skills in a junior level bioinstrumentation course. These modules were not part of the course requirements but were presented as an additional tool to help students develop a logical, structured process for troubleshooting basic electronic circuits. Troubleshooting modules consisted of a hardware component (built using National Instruments prototyping boards and a variety of basic electronic components and transducers) and the associated software (National Instruments ELVIS and LabVIEW) necessary to test and identify the failure point of the electronic circuit. A step-by-step instruction manual was also included with each module to provide the technical specifications of the circuit and guide the students through a structured troubleshooting process.

Final individual course grades and GPA scores from instrumentation-related core courses were both used to categorize below-average and above-average students in an effort to understand the effect of the course performance as well as the effect of their overall instrumentation skills on the observed response. Students that accessed the troubleshooting modules between the midterm and final laboratory exams were identified by the completion of a survey and served as the experimental group. Students that did not use the modules throughout the course served as the control group.

Laboratory exams evaluate the students’ ability to design and troubleshoot electronic circuits and associated software and therefore were used to assess the impact of these changes. Midterm and final exam grades were compared between experimental and control groups for above and below average students using a two-way ANOVA. Due to the small class size, the impact of these modules was assessed over three semesters (fall 2015, fall 2016, fall 2017).

The interaction effect between the use of modules and student performance was found to be statistically significant when below and above average students were categorized based on the final individual course grade (p=0.044) and when they were categorized based on the GPA scores in instrumentation-related courses (p=0.006). These results indicate that the effect on laboratory exam grades observed after using the troubleshooting modules will differ for below-average and above-average students. Our data suggests that using guided modules is an effective tool to improve hands-on troubleshooting skills, and that the observed response is greater for below-average students.

Ramos, R. F. (2018, June), Guided Modules Emphasizing Process-Based Troubleshooting Techniques Help Below-Average Performing Students Improve Instrumentation Skills Paper presented at 2018 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Salt Lake City, Utah. 10.18260/1-2--30566

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