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The Evolution Of An Introductory Biological Engineering Course: Design Is The Endpoint!

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1997 Annual Conference


Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Publication Date

June 15, 1997

Start Date

June 15, 1997

End Date

June 18, 1997



Page Count


Page Numbers

2.412.1 - 2.412.9



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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Session 1608

Session 1608

The Evolution of an Introductory Biological Engineering Course: Design is the Endpoint!

D. Raj Raman The University of Tennessee, Knoxville


Four the past four years, I have taught the sophomore level course, Agricultural Engineering 243 Material and Energy Flows in Biological Systems each spring semester. During the first offering, I used the lecture method to transmit information, and homework assignments and exams to reinforce skills and test comprehension. The greatest weakness of this technique seemed the lack of hands-on experience which I gave my students, and their subsequent lack of physical intuition. Enhancing their physical intuition drove the first curricular revision using in-class demonstrations and simulations of key physical and biological processes. This technique did not work as well as expected, probably because it continued to rely on a source - sink model of learning, with myself as the fount of knowledge. Therefore, increasing student involvement and fostering student maturity drove the second revision, consisting of the inclusion of two team design experiences, and the addition of more student-led problem solving during class time. This second revision was very rewarding, achieving a >95% attendance rate over the semester, and strongly positive student evaluations. By making engineering design central to the class, student maturity and student interest were increased, and their educational needs better served, than in the traditional lecture format. At the time of this writing, the third revision of the course is underway. I am now distributing printed class notes to transmit technical information, and relying on problem sets, quizzes, a semester long design project, and student initiated discussions to reinforce the material. Again, the non-lecturing, design focus of the course appears to be achieving high student attendance and interest. These experiences have convinced me that incorporating engineering design into lower division engineering courses enhances student learning and can make the teaching of engineering more fun.


Lower division engineering courses are the foundation of engineering education. Without a mastery of engineering fundamentals, students are poorly prepared to do engineering analyses, which is a critical part of engineering design. The breadth of agricultural and biosystems engineering makes selection of topics for an introductory biological engineering course difficult. Covering too broad a swath of subjects can turn a core-engineering course, which should impart mastery of critical engineering concept, into a survey course, which dabbles in an interesting array of subjects but imparts no mastery of any. It is therefore necessary for individual instructors to focus on sub-sections of biological engineering to provide their students with a core- engineering experience that enhances their understanding of biology, physics, chemistry and mathematics, in the context of engineering design. My experience with fourth-year engineering

Raman, D. R. (1997, June), The Evolution Of An Introductory Biological Engineering Course: Design Is The Endpoint! Paper presented at 1997 Annual Conference, Milwaukee, Wisconsin. 10.18260/1-2--6554

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