Project introduction and background information
The UT has adopted TOM (Twente Educational Model) for the redesign of all of its bachelor’s programmes. Biomedical Engineering (BME) acted as the first pilot for TOM and has the most prolonged experience with TOM of all UT programmes. BME is intrinsically multi-disciplinary. The innovation described here concerns the third-year first module – module 9 – on Neural & Motor Systems. In TOM, a module has 15 EC. Dr.ir. A.H.A. (Arno) Stienen acts as the module coordinator and the core teachers group consists of five more, covering the various multidisciplinary content areas involved. The goal of the project, 6 EC, is for students to design an interactive robot, controlled by biological signals (EMG), based on biomechatronics. The project teams, five students each, are tutored.
Objective and expected outcomes
The teacher team did more: (i) introducing a methodological design approach to students; (ii) arranging direct feedback and course adjustments through evaluation of multiple choice exams; (iii) having a mix of group and individual student tests; (iv) defining restrictions for the project; (v) providing a materials kit for the robot, costing EUR 200 per team.
In the educational literature, it is widely accepted that project-led education with a theme to which students can strongly relate, is an important factor in building intrinsic motivation (e.g. Ambrose et al., 2010). The module 9 teacher team decided to construct a theme around the disease called Duchenne. This is a cruel, progressive muscle disease affecting mostly (young) males. In more progressive stages of Duchenne, passive support systems no longer match the needs of patients. In module 9, students work on an active support system, a biomechatronic robot, to support patients.
In addition, a Duchenne patient in the same age category as the students participated in the project demonstration and evaluation, i.e. the jury. This greatly enhanced student motivation.
TOM is about improving study success, time to degree, and learning 21st century skills. This teacher team has found ways to address two main challenges: (1) to closely integrate the units of study with the project, and (2) to enhance engagement of students.
Results and learnings
The module results exceeded the teacher team’s expectations. All groups built a working robot. All students passed the module. The summative evaluation of the module by students gave an average score of 7.4 on a 10 point scale. This is by far the highest score in the curriculum to date.
- This teacher team decided to start more or less from scratch, having only an intention for a module theme. Ideation for the design of the module was not based on group meetings, but on one of the group members doing a round of one-on-one talks to collect inputs. A draft design was made and subsequently presented to and discussed by the team
- The teacher team consisted of constructive thinkers who were prepared to give and take
- Existing course components were used, and a new unit of study was created to act as a ‘lubricant’ to fill in the holes
- BME student motivation had a major boost for two reasons: most students who enroll in BME want to help people. And this module was the first after two years of mostly theoretical modules in which they actually could help. For other disciplines, intrinsic motivation can be boosted by students actually producing a result. Authenticity – relation to professional practice – and students engaging in a meaningful effort are also options. Showing students that there’s always support available for them (in this modules, even during the weekend in the final stage of the project) is supportive as well.
- The timetable included full-day focus for a specific unit of study, on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursday. This included: lectures, tutorials and Q&A
For integration of the content, it is essential to secure compatibility and connections between the project and all unit of study in the module.