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Teaching System Design in Experiential Learning: Building a Fitness Wearable at Home

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2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access


Virtual Conference

Publication Date

July 26, 2021

Start Date

July 26, 2021

End Date

July 19, 2022

Conference Session

Electrical and Computer Division Technical Session 4

Tagged Division

Electrical and Computer

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Ramsin Khoshabeh University of California, San Diego Orcid 16x16

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Ramsin Khoshabeh received his PhD from the ECE department at UC San Diego in 2012, specializing in computer vision and machine learning for medical applications. He currently serves as the Director of the ECE Makerspace at UC San Diego. In addition to overseeing the operations of the lab, Ramsin also teaches numerous experientially-focused courses covering topics such as basic electronics and prototyping, wearable sensors, Python programming, full-stack web development, real-time signal processing, machine learning and vision, human-centered product engineering, and even agile business planning. Prior to entering the workforce at UC San Diego, Ramsin is part of several startups and consults with a number of local companies on computer vision, machine learning, and blockchain technologies.

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Vikash Gilja

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At our university, the ECE department has striven over the last few years to provide undergraduate students with an educational experience that far exceeds the expectations of hiring managers. We surveyed students and employers to understand where the gap exists between new graduates and highly qualified engineers. New graduates frequently struggled at attaining the best internships. Even before they graduated, many of them started to seek out opportunities but often in vain. Furthermore, most new hires had to go through a season of training before they could become contributing employees. As a result, we wanted to design a course that would help us address the research question: “How can we deliver an engineering education that provides students the skills they need to succeed in the workforce?”

By genuinely listening, we discovered a number of key insights which led to a highly successful course where students rapidly design hardware and software to interface with the world. In this paper, we discuss our motivations, the design of the course, what we have learned from teaching the course, and where we see the future of experiential education heading, especially in light of the COVID-19 pandemic and the need for highly effective remote instruction. We believe that the model we have created in this classroom experience successfully prepares students for the rigors of an engineering career.

Our ECE department has a rich history of exemplary theoretical teaching, with a strong emphasis on research, but undergraduate students felt a void in how to apply that knowledge into engineering practice, especially in future careers. This is why in recent years we have strongly focused on experiential learning in all four years of the undergraduate experience. We developed courses for entering freshmen and capstones for graduating seniors, but we did not have anything for students in the heart of their university experience, particularly for those uncertain of their future aspirations. This was a driving force behind the formation of this course. The goal of the class was, and still is, to offer undergraduates experience with real-world data, teach them to work with a complete system, and provide them a contextual basis in which to apply their theoretical knowledge. This goal was established after careful consultation with our corporate affiliates and alumni. As a result, the course today has students build a fitness wearable from first principles. During the journey, they attain foundational Python software development skills and are exposed to many facets of ECE curriculum. In their final project, they repurpose their wearable to address a new, unrelated problem so as to be challenged to be critical thinkers working on open-ended problems – a highly sought-after skill by employers we surveyed.

Due to the modular, often self-paced nature of the course, it has had a serendipitous outcome during the pandemic – namely, while being a highly hands-on course, it actually works extremely well in settings of remote instruction. Feedback from students has been surprisingly positive as they have had to work on their project kits from their homes rather than in the lab setting. Since much of their instruction in their other classes has shifted to lectures offered via video conferencing software, any opportunity to actually work with their hands has led to marked excitement and eagerness to participate in class, as has been directly observed by us.

The focus of this paper will be to breakdown the course curriculum, demonstrate how it offers students a unique learning experience, and illustrate the effectiveness of the material even during remote instruction.

Khoshabeh, R., & Gilja, V. (2021, July), Teaching System Design in Experiential Learning: Building a Fitness Wearable at Home Paper presented at 2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual Conference.

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