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Medical Physics and Biomedical Engineering Teaching


Highlights of the teaching going on in UCL Medical Physics and Biomedical Engineering


Archive for the 'modules' Category

How to get international distance learning and campus students to collaborate

By rmapapg, on 12 November 2018

By Billy Dennis

Distance learning and campus students learning together

Distance learning and campus students learning together

Billy Dennis, Teaching Fellow in UCL Medical Physics and Biomedical Engineering, has written a blog post for the UCL Teaching and Learning blog about how he developed a new module on the distance learning MSc that enables Distance Learning and London-based students to work together to invent a new medical device, and produce a full business plan to bring it to market. See the full report.

A breath of fresh air

By rmapapg, on 14 March 2018

By Rebecca Yerworth

How do you let steam out of you kitchen if the only window is behind the kitchen sink and, as an octogenarian you can no longer climb on the work-surface to reach the handle? We gave our second year biomedical engineers one week to find a solution.

At first it seemed trivial – just put a hook on a stick… but then they met the 87-year old client and realised that wielding anything much heavier than a cup of tea was going to be a problem, and she would like to be able to store the aid on the kitchen work surface.  … and don’t forget the screw on the bottom bracket which is needed to stop the open window flapping about in the breeze.

By Friday afternoon all the student teams had a device which they could use to open the window, and were waiting in trepidation for the client to test them out.  “Bit heavy”, “nicely finished”, “easy to use”, were some of the comments heard. Different solutions were found to the issue of weight, from using intrinsically light bamboo to strategically shaping wooden planks to reduce their weight, to not using a pole at all – just use pulleys. Seven different ideas from seven teams.

Window Opener being tested

Window Opener being tested

During the week students put into practice skills they had learnt in other modules – included user-centered design, and the practical implications of material choice. They also learnt new skills as they made good use of the tools in the biomedical engineering teaching laboratory and in UCL’s MakeSpace.

This project is inspired by the work of REMAP, a national charity specialising in custom making aids for elderly and disabled people, where no suitable aid is commercially available. UCL staff and students have recently set up a REMAP-affiliated group Impactive. Volunteers from both organisations gave an inspiring talk to the students at the beginning of the week, and it sounds like they have gained some new volunteers: Biomedical Engineering students putting their skills to good use even before they graduate – well done and keep it up.

Thinking clinical at the Learning Hospital

By rmapapg, on 3 December 2016

By Julian Henty

Clinical Engineering knowledge and skills were put to the test recently during a visit to UCLH’s Learning Hospital. Second year Biomedical Engineering students were given the chance to test various medical devices, such as ventilators, bedside monitors and suction machines, examine the workings of an in-house automated blood pressure machine, and observe vital signs measurement from a real ‘patient’ using a virtual bedside monitor.

Despite making good use of the department’s electronics lab for experimentation with transducers, software driven data acquisition, and aspects of electrical safety, the Clinical Engineering module fulfills its practical aims by providing a hands-on session with real hospital equipment and actual clinical measurements in a realistic clinical environment. The Learning Hospital has a ‘theatre’, complete with operating table and appropriate medical devices, and a ‘ward’ with two beds, nurses’ station and a medical gas supply.

The virtual non-invasive blood pressure (NIBP) device comprised a PC, control board and recycled components from a disassembled standard NIBP device. LabVIEW software measured the photoplethysmogram (PPG) amplitude distal to the cuff during inflation/deflation, which provided feedback to control the air pump and release valve. The software had an illustrative screen showing each step in the process of taking a real measurement. Safety aspects of NIBP measurement could also be demonstrated.


The patient waits anxiously for his results

The virtual bedside monitor displayed real-time graphs of the ECG, PPG, NIBP and chest movement while the ‘patient’ lay on a bed. LabVIEW software demonstrated how heart rate may be extracted from the ECG, PPG, or NIBP measurements, and respiratory rate from the ECG or chest movement. The software could also manipulate the ECG to demonstrate both noise and other lead measurements, and simulation of low amplitude due to pericardial/pleural effusion, pneumothorax, obesity or loss of viable myocardium.


With thanks to Dimitros Airantiz, Billy Dennis and Paul Burke

Peer assessment in group work

By rmapapg, on 13 May 2016

By Pilar Garcia Souto

UCL Engineering trains students to use engineering knowledge within extended group practical activities to better prepare them for their careers after graduation. However, despite the substantial educational benefits of getting students to work in teams, students express and experience concerns that significantly decrease the student satisfaction.

We decided to look deeper into this matter and organized student focus groups across the Engineering Faculty, and spoke with various members of staff that use and assess group work. The message is clear: an element of “individual contribution” is needed, possible set by peers and tutor moderated, which improves the group dynamics and penalize the “passengers”. Otherwise students frequently express dissatisfaction if all members of a team are given the same mark regardless of the individual effort.

The concept is simple. At the end of a group work students rate the contribution of each team member, and this is used by the tutor to generate an individual mark. This encourages self-reflection, increase student satisfaction and reduce student’s complaints. The only major drawback is that the peer assessment of individual contribution is mainly collected using pen and paper, hence very staff consuming, as current e-learning tools are inadequate. From our research, this tool should be online, anonymous, preferable within Moodle and flexible so staff can adapt it and ask or value different aspects (e.g. reliability, punctuality, contribution to ideas, etc.).

This is an ongoing project. We presented some results at the UCL Teaching and Learning conference in April 2016, which attracted a lot of interest. It is clear that individual contribution assessment is something that staff from across UCL want to implement, and yet we lack the appropriate system. We decided to take the lead on establishing a consortium with those interested, and seek for some funding to develop an appropriate system within Moodle that would allow us to efficiently incorporate this practice into our teaching. If you are interested on participating and/or hearing more of our results, please contact p.garciasouto@ucl.ac.uk.

Our thanks to ELDG 2015 who partially funded this project.

Assessment by wiki

By rmapapg, on 1 March 2016

By Adam Gibson and Rebecca Yerworth

We’re keen to incorporate different methods of assessment into the biomedical engineering programme. This makes the process more interesting and engaging for staff and students, and allows us to teach and assess a wide range of transferrable skills. In a new module on anatomy and physiology for biomedical engineers, we teach the basic anatomy and physiology in workshops and in a dissection room, and provide enhanced context by asking biomedical engineers to give two-hour “case studies” where they describe how their research interacts with the relevant anatomy and physiology.

We’ve built on this concept of a “case study” in the assessment where we ask students, in pairs, to research and present their own case study. The twist is that we have asked them to prepare and produce this using an online wiki interface. This allows us to move away from the standard boring Word document and introduce new skills. We ask students to demonstrate advanced writing skills by writing for a lay audience. They also need to consider how writing a website is different from a typical document, and address topics such as accessibility, web design and ensuring that any images have appropriate copyright. Academic referencing is as important as ever but has a different nuance if hyperlinks can be used. We produced a rubric which shows how we emphasised these areas in the assessment.

Asking students to research their own case studies based on those presented by experts in the field fits in nicely with UCL’s emphasis on research-based education and the connected curriculum, particularly as an example of outward-facing assessment.

A wiki interface includes a “history” log which makes it easier for an assessor to track the contributions of each partner, and also allows permissions to be controlled so that only members of a pair or team have access to edit the document, but tutors can view progress. Once the assignment is complete and assessed, we opened up access completely. This encourages students to take pride in their work, and gives them something they can link to if they choose. We hope that our collection of case studies will lead to a useful resource as different cohorts of students add to it year by year. We will also encourage students in subsequent years to read previous submissions and hopefully learn from them.

The case studies wiki is now available for all to see.

Writing a research grant in radiotherapy

By rmapapg, on 6 January 2016

By Adam Gibson, Konstantin Lozhkin and Gary Royle

We have a long-standing module on “treatment with ionising radiation“. Ten years ago, one of us, Konstantin Lozhkin, completed UCL’s teaching course run by CALT. For his dissertation, Konstantin proposed teaching the module using Problem-Based Learning techniques, and, back in the day before research-based teaching became a big thing, we decided to give it a try.

Problem-based learning (PBL) is not new. It was developed by Célestin Freinet who was injured during the First World War. After the war, he became a teacher, but due to his war injury, he found talking in class difficult. This acted as the inspiration for a new style of teaching where he set problems and encouraged students to solve them co-operatively thereby learning from each other. The concept was taken further by McMaster University Medical School, who pioneered teaching by PBL. It is now widely used, especially in medical schools and it is seen to give students responsibility for their learning, reinforce deeper understanding, lead to improved motivation and encourage the development of teamwork and collaboration.

Our implementation of PBL has changed somewhat. The task we used first was to ask the students to imagine they are a medical consultant for a TV drama series in which a character is about to undergo radiotherapy. Students were asked to write a portfolio for the scriptwriters which summarised the radiotherapy issues and propose a plot. This successfully engaged the students but we found that they could avoid the technical aspects of radiotherapy physics which was the whole purpose of the exercise. We therefore changed the task, and now we send the students a spoof email from a “head of department”, asking them to produce a research grant application which compares two forms of radiotherapy.

Problem based learning task

An example task for the problem based learning exercise

We give an introductory lecture which describes PBL, gives some tips on teamwork and how to prioritise tasks, and then provide space for students to meet with tutors once or twice a week. The task lasts for around 4 weeks, at the end of which each team of 5-6 students give a presentation and submit a portfolio. Individual students also fill in an anonymous sheet in which they assess their own contribution and that of their teammates, and they also write a short (<300 word) self-reflection. These let us differentiate individual effort from the team performance. One real advantage of this type of team-learning exercise in this module is that it attracts students from a wide variety of programmes (usually Medical Physics, medical students taking an intercalated BSc in Medical Physics, straight physics students, Natural Sciences students and often others), which encourages students from different disciplines to learn from each other. The presentations are invariable excellent, and often contain dose calculations, original data and a costing for the grant application. Feedback is given instantly after the presentations, and a later team-specific “email” is sent from the “Head of Department” commenting on the grant application.

We provide students with a Moodle forum which allows them to communicate with each other. They tend to find this limited, however, and organise their own electronic communication. Students have used email, Facebook, Google Docs, Dropbox, text messages, MySpace and WhatsApp. This means we are less able to track the group’s activity, but it wouldn’t be in the spirit of PBL to impose a particular method of communication on the students.

Students typically put in a lot of work and enjoy the exercise. Feedback to us from students includes “it’s been amazing working with such a brilliant team”, “I am grateful to have had the opportunity to learn so many valuable lessons”, a good experience to simulate working in the real world”, and “every member of the team worked hard and well so we ended up with a high quality final piece that I thoroughly enjoyed working on”.

We as staff enjoy it too. It’s good to see students develop in confidence as they come to grips with the problem they have been set, and to see the positive way in which they tackle the problem. There are disadvantages: it’s hard to give a genuine individual mark for a team effort such as this (although the peer assessment sheet and the reflective essay help), and we have sacrificed some lectures to make time for this, which reduces the core syllabus on which the exam is based. However, we feel the advantages outweigh the disadvantages and look forward to continuing this into the future, and perhaps extending PBL techniques into other modules.

Pebble in the Pond

By rmapapg, on 2 December 2015

By Alan Cottenden

Congratulations to the victorious Biomedical Engineering team who managed to transport their pebble the length of the assault course they had designed and built – involving a catapult, a lift, numerous slides and prodigious quantities of string and sticky tape – and deposit it in a bucket at the finishing line with fewer “interventions” (that is, manual interferences to help it on its way!) per meter of travel than either of their two rival teams. The pictures show the creators of the assault course’s four sections admiring their handiwork while savouring the taste of victory!


Team Catapult


Team Vertical


Team Cup


Team Balloon