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WIP: Virtual Vs. Face-to-Face Synchronous Laboratory Instruction for Programming MATLAB for Biomedical Engineers

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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

Biomedical Engineering Division Poster Session (Works in Progress)

Tagged Division

Biomedical Engineering

Tagged Topic


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Paper Authors


Benjamin Hawkins California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo Orcid 16x16

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My professional interests focus on the development and use of microsystems (biosensors, microcontrollers, etc) to matters of human health. Primarily this is focused on microfluidics, but also ranges from wearable devices to laboratory equipment. Applications range from cell measurements to ecological questions.
Educationally, I am focused on developing courses and content that connects theory to technology in practice, with an emphasis on rigorous understanding of both.

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The recent COVID-19 pandemic has created a far more challenging educational environment but has also created an opportunity for scrutiny of virtual instruction practices. Previously, we have presented on the implementation of a sequence of MATLAB-based programming activities for undergraduates in biomedical engineering to synthesize and integrate knowledge from previous coursework. Previously offered in a face-to-face modality, the most recent term presented these activities to students in either virtual synchronous and face-to-face environments. A few students additionally undertook the activities in a virtual asynchronous mode. We hypothesize that the face-to-face environment significantly improves student achievement on measured outcomes. The majority of courses at our institution were offered in virtual modes (87%), while 13% of courses identified as essential were implemented in-person with an approved safety plan. Students were not compelled to attend face-to-face courses and were given the option to pursue virtual alternatives. In this case, we were able to offer identical material and synchronous instruction during the laboratory activity to virtual students. This combination of factors presented us with a unique opportunity to simultaneously study the impact of face-to-face and virtual synchronous instruction modes. Programming, as a practice, lends itself quite well to adaptation to a virtual environment. By its very nature, it appears be a prime candidate for virtual implementation. It requires no unique infrastructure, no difficult to maintain or handle materials, and no required “hands-on” components. However, students in the early stages of learning programming struggle to separate technical issues from programming issues, unique interface elements or requirements, and other highly individualized, situational factors that contribute to success or failure in implementing a particular piece of code. For this reason, we prioritized face-to-face instruction where students could receive individualized assistance, thus avoiding some of the downsides of virtual instruction which include, but are not limited to, an increased time commitment required to engage with an instructor virtually or learning in an environment where synchronous communication may be difficult. An additional factor to be considered is the availability of computational and communication resources available to a diverse student cohort. Data collected to date support our hypothesis that student achievement is improved with face-to-face instruction.

Hawkins, B. (2021, July), WIP: Virtual Vs. Face-to-Face Synchronous Laboratory Instruction for Programming MATLAB for Biomedical Engineers Paper presented at 2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual Conference. 10.18260/1-2--38103

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