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Learning two programming languages in one semester does not adversely affect undergraduate biomedical engineering student performance

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2017 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Columbus, Ohio

Publication Date

June 24, 2017

Start Date

June 24, 2017

End Date

June 28, 2017

Conference Session

Development of Technical and Soft Skills in BME

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Trevor R Ham The University of Akron

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I am a 4th year PhD student studying Biomedical Engineering at The University of Akron, as well as a member of the College of Engineering Teaching Program. I teach a programming course (using MATLAB) to Biomedical Engineering undergraduates. My research interests concern protein-functionalized hydrogels to guide neural stem cell differentiation, with a focus on regenerating damaged spinal cord tissue.

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Rouzbeh Amini The University of Akron Orcid 16x16

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Dr. Amini completed a Ph.D. in Biomedical Engineering at the University of Minnesota in the field of ocular biomechanics and biotransport in 2010. He then continued his research work on the mechanics of soft tissue as a postdoctoral trainee at the University of Pittsburgh’s Department of Bioengineering, where he held the Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award (NIH F32). He conducted his postdoctoral research on the biomechanics of cardiac valves. Dr. Amini has served as an assistant professor in the Department of Biomedical Engineering at The University of Akron since August 2013. The overall goal of his research laboratory is to improve human health by studying the multi-scale biomechanics and biotransport in biological systems. Dr. Amini’s research has been funded by the National Science Foundation, Akron Children’s Hospital, Firestone Foundation, Conquer Chiari Foundation, and American Heart Association.

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Over the past few decades, computer programming has become integral to the duties of engineers in all fields. Especially in multidisciplinary fields, such as biomedical engineering (BME), a literacy in scripting languages enables engineers to interface with other disciplines. Programming has certainly become an important tool in the essential arsenal for solving complex medical challenges. More so than proficiency in one specific language, it is important that students have a fundamental conceptual knowledge of how to approach problems from a computational perspective. In traditional computer science curricula, students learn how to apply theoretical knowledge in a wide variety of programming languages. However, in BME, students typically have 1-2 semesters of exposure to higher-level programming concepts. Our hypothesis was that requiring students to complete a project in a second programming language within a single semester would reinforce basic programming knowledge and have a statistically significant effect on final exam performance. All experiments conducted in this study were given a formal exemption from approval by our Institutional Review Board. We instructed students in a sophomore-level Biomedical Computing course to build a pulse sensor from an Arduino UNO. Half of the class (assigned based on Exam 1 performance) completed the project in MATLAB, which was the main language and focus of the course. The other half completed the project in the Arduino integrated development environment (AIDE, which closely resembles C syntax). After completing the project, we asked students to complete a survey regarding their perceptions of the project and compared the final exam scores of both groups (via Student’s t-test with α = 0.05). We found that the two groups exhibited no significant difference (p = 0.622) when comparing their final exam performance. This outcome indicated that there was no statistical benefit to learning the second language (at least not as measured in this experiment). However, it is important to consider that the students in the AIDE group learned a new programming language without losing overall conceptual knowledge (i.e., they did not do worse on the final exam). The students indicated that they enjoyed the project, with more AIDE students (13/14) expressing satisfaction than MATLAB students (11/14). Future adjustments to our approach may be needed perhaps with a language aside from AIDE to fully realize the potential of teaching two languages.

Ham, T. R., & Amini, R. (2017, June), Learning two programming languages in one semester does not adversely affect undergraduate biomedical engineering student performance Paper presented at 2017 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Columbus, Ohio. 10.18260/1-2--28617

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