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Using LEGO Mindstorms and MATLAB in Curriculum Design of Active Learning Activities for a First-year Engineering Computing Course

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2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Tampa, Florida

Publication Date

June 15, 2019

Start Date

June 15, 2019

End Date

October 19, 2019

Conference Session

First-Year Programs: Integrating Computing into the First Year

Tagged Division

First-Year Programs

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Paper Authors


Shelley Lorimer Grant MacEwan University

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Shelley Lorimer is an Associate Professor in Engineering (BSEN) Transfer Program at MacEwan University. She is an instructor in the introductory engineering courses as well. The BSEN program at MacEwan has grown from forty students since in started almost fifteen years ago, to the current 216 students. The majority of the students in the program transfer to second year engineering at the University of Alberta.

Shelley is a graduate of the University of Alberta in engineering and is a registered professional engineer with APEGA (Association of Professional Engineers, Geologists and Geophysicists of Alberta). Prior to her career at MacEwan, Shelley worked in industry as a research engineer and a consulting engineer for several years.

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Jeffrey A. Davis Grant MacEwan University

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Dr Davis obtained his PhD at ETH Zurich specializing in multiphase flows
and thermal hydraulics in nuclear reactors. With a passion for teaching,
Dr. Davis' research focuses on pedagogical topics such as student engagement, active learning, and cognitive development. Projects he is currently working on include “Development of a risk assessment model for the retention of students”, “Development of Student Assessment Software”, and “Improving Student Engagement through Active Learning”.

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Olivia Tronchin University of Alberta

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This paper is a complete evidence based practice paper.Courses and materials in computer programming tend to be abstract, which can lead to many students having difficulties learning and being engaged with the material. With a more hands-on/practical approach, students may find themselves immersed in the material and motivated to understand and apply the abstract concepts learned in class to real-world applications. Previous studies in the literature have shown that LEGO Mindstorms can be used to enhance active learning for students, particularly when used to demonstrate computer programming concepts. However, many of the studies have typically been limited to design courses and not first-year specific. There is not substantial information showing a developed curriculum for a first-year engineering programming course. The current paper examines the feasibility of using robotics (specifically LEGO Mindstorms) combined with computer programming (MATLAB) as it relates to the curriculum of a first-year engineering computing course, and how it can be implemented.

Specifically, the goals of this scholarly activity were threefold: i) to investigate the literature to explore the use of active learning tools in first-year engineering education, ii) to determine the capabilities of the LEGO Mindstorms platform as an “active learning” tool for first-year engineering and computer science students at XXXXXXX, and iii) to use the information gained to propose active learning lab activities for first-year programming courses. This research uses a qualitative approach to examine the feasibility through observations on the direct usage of a LEGO Mindstorms robot with the MATLAB programming environment. The functionality, specifically sensor capabilities, of the robot was compared with intended learning outcomes for a specific course. A checklist of desirable curriculum outcomes was used as the rubric in the feasibility analysis. Motivation for the research was derived from the literature which showed potential for the use of robotics for active learning activities.

Results of this investigation have shown that LEGO Mindstorms is a viable teaching tool for a first-year engineering computing course to develop fundamental programming skills and hands-on problem-solving skills. The feasibility study focused on the six sensors that typically come with the Mindstorms EV3 robot to design active learning activities using the MATLAB toolbox. The capabilities of the sensors were found to be more than adequate to cover the first-year computing curriculum. Through the assessment of the various sensors, learning activities were designed to develop both fundamental programming skills and hands on problem-solving skills. Examples of the learning activities demonstrating curriculum relevant material in the context of a first-year computing course are presented. A discussion of the sensor capabilities which provide a framework for the curriculum is also provided. The sensors are discussed in a broader context that would allow development of additional learning activities as the need arises. A detailed curriculum map is presented for both the classroom and lab environment. This curriculum map is linked to learning outcomes for the course.

Lorimer, S., & Davis, J. A., & Tronchin, O. (2019, June), Using LEGO Mindstorms and MATLAB in Curriculum Design of Active Learning Activities for a First-year Engineering Computing Course Paper presented at 2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Tampa, Florida. 10.18260/1-2--33506

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