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How to get international distance learning and campus students to collaborate

Adam PGibson12 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

Adam PGibson14 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.

Peer assessment in group work

Adam PGibson13 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.

Pitching UCL Biomedical Engineering Inventions To A Panel Of Dragons

Adam PGibson11 April 2016

By Jenny Griffiths

We made an unusual homework demand on our second year Biomedical Engineers over the Christmas vacation: they had to watch TV.

The students were asked to use UCL’s subscription to Box of Broadcasts to watch episodes of BBC’s Dragon’s Den in order to prepare for their first week back when they would be asked to spend a few days applying knowledge and understanding of enterprise, ethics, and regulations to medical devices.

On the first day of term, groups of students were each given a UCL Biomedical Engineering invention and told that they were to present a written portfolio and give a pitch to a panel of expert ‘Dragons’ on Friday afternoon.  They then went off, made contact with the UCL inventors of the devices, and with the help of a Teaching Assistant with a background in Medical Device Innovation, researched:

  • the devices’ capabilities
  • the market for the invention
  • routes to that market
  • ethical implications and requirements
  • medical device regulations for the device

All this information – key to bringing an engineering concept from lab to public use –  needed to be at their fingertips for the Friday presentations.

The full assignment marks for the work were split between the presentation, a written group portfolio and individual contributions to the team. We also upped the competitive element by awarding a prize for the best pitch, judged entirely subjectively by the Dragons and unlinked to any summative assessment marks.

dragons den presentation

This year’s devices were an optical ultrasound transcatheter imaging system (Dr Adrien Desjardins), a percutaneous heart valve delivery system (Dr Gaetano Burriesci) and SenseWheel – a force sensing wheelchair wheel to measure biomechanics (Dr Catherine Holloway).

On Friday afternoon, each group had five minutes to present their device to a panel of experts consisting of:

  • an academic medical devices expert
  • a Royal Academy of Engineering Enterprise Fellow
  • an academic who has commercialised a medical device through a spin-out
  • an external marketing and communications expert with no expert medical device knowledge.

The presentations were held in the appropriately intimidating Executive Education Suite, where the panel sat in high backed chairs and asked probing questions after each presentation. The students responded professionally and gave excellent pitches, selling devices that they had not know about just five days before!

Our highly sought after prize of copies of Eric Ries’ ‘The Lean Start up’ and (chocolate) money was won by team SenseWheel.

dragons den prize

In future years we aim to encourage more external Dragons to take part and will link the prize giving to an industrial careers and networking event for the students. If you are an employer who would like to be a part of this fun and valuable event, the department would love to hear from you.

Living Aid – working with Remap

Adam PGibson15 March 2016

By Rebecca Yerworth

remap1During the last week of February the second year biomedical engineers were introduced to ‘Remap’, a national charity working through local groups of skilled volunteers to help disabled people achieve independence and a better quality of life, by designing and tailor making equipment for their individual needs. The week started with a fascinating talk by Remap volunteers, explaining the purpose of the charity, the range of projects they tackle and the life changing effect of these bespoke items.

The students were then tasked with designing an aid that will enable a client to fit and remove spectacles, which she is unable to do without help, due to restricted arm movement. Whilst Remap projects vary in complexity, this is typical of the issues they solve – giving back independence to disabled users, or enabling them to take up a hobby they could previously only dream of.remap2

By the end of the week the students had had two meetings with the ‘client’ (an actor well acquainted with the issues) and we had three prototype devices. Three completely different approaches were taken, all of which the students could operate… though some needed further refinement/customisation to be useable by the client.

remap3The project raised some interesting questions about the relative merits of 3D printing versus traditional DIY techniques and of passive versus active devices. It also highlighted the importance of identifying and taking into account the client’s needs and preferences.

 

Smartphone app for detecting pulse rate

Terence SLeung17 February 2016

By Terence Leung

Our 1st year Biomedical Engineering students had very little computer programming experience when they began their first scenario week on Monday, 8th February. So to them, developing a smartphone app that can measure pulse rate seemed almost like an impossible task. However, as they struggled through the week, they learned about building the graphical user interface, switching the phone’s flash on and off, accessing pixel values from the phone’s camera, and performing Fast Fourier Transform to get the frequency of a periodic signal. Gradually, their apps were taking shape. Indeed by Friday all 10 teams had successfully developed their apps, some completed with a customised logo, animation, and even sound effect. It was a tough week, typically 9 to 5 (except Wednesday afternoon off). Many students found it tiring but were very proud of their first ever healthcare apps. Hopefully not their last!

Anxiously waiting for the test result…

Anxiously waiting for the test result…

 

Test result looks good!

Test result looks good!

 

Students took turn to demonstrate their apps

Students took turn to demonstrate their apps

 

This app apparently has the approval of fellow students

This app apparently has the approval of fellow students

 

Explaining why this is a great app!

Explaining why this is a great healthcare app!

 

This app has incorporated an animation in the background!

This app has incorporated an animation in the background!

 

This app has a customised logo (top left corner)!

This app has a customised logo (top left corner)!

 

This app plays simulated heart sounds during the measurement!

This app plays simulated heart sounds during the measurement!

Regaining Control

Adam PGibson18 January 2016

By Rebecca Yerworth

Just before Christmas, DSCN2511 the second year Biomedical Engineering students spent a week in the lab designing and building a device to replace a computer mouse for a hypothetical client who had no hand. The devices picked up electrical activity in the muscle of the arm and translated these into cursor movements and clicks – or at least that was the theory.

Regaining controlThe students’ knowledge of electronics, anatomy and problem solving were all put to the test as they built and tested their circuits. They discovered the delights of bread-boarding moderately complex circuits – and the importance of keeping your ‘spaghetti’ colour coded! Of equal importance was realising that some muscle groups are easier to control independently that others – and that what most of us do routinely, without consciously thinking about it, takes a lot more physical and mental effort when being relearnt.

All the groups successfully detected and recorded electrical activity from muscles. Detecting muscle activity from multiple muscle groups with a sufficiently clear signal to control a mouse pointer is much more challenging, but everyone managed this, at least intermittently. In amongst the hard work, it was good to see the moments of fun and hear the cries of delight as the first hand-free mouse clicks appeared.

“Oh God this is so cool! Do we really have to stick to our budget?!”

Adam PGibson9 November 2015

By Jenny Griffiths

Scenarios are a highlight of our new biomedical engineering programme. In a scenario, all lectures stop and students spend the whole week working on a group project where they solve a biomedical engineering problem. Last week, our second year students worked with Jenny Griffiths to build articles of smart clothing. Their brief was to design and build an item of clothing to monitor a marathon runner’s wellbeing and give an alert to inform the runner and all those around them to prevent injury. Students were encouraged to be creative and develop their own solutions as long as their device met the design brief and was safe.DSC00656

Jenny provided the students with a range of components, mainly centered around the Adafruit Flora wearable arduino. We gave them sensors including temperature and pressure sensors, accelerometers, GPS, UV and light sensors and stretchy conductive rubber. Outputs included buzzers, vibration motors, Bluetooth connectivity and programmable RGB LEDs, but they were only allowed to use up to £40 for materials. The task built upon electronics modules which students took last year, and a clinical engineering module which includes lectures on transducers which the students are taking at the moment.

We put the students into random groups and let them loose!

shoesTwo groups chose to design their own sensors from scratch to monitor electrolyte concentration in sweat. They quickly learnt how challenging it is to build a robust sensor! They sewed their home-made sensors into running shirts with conductive thread and used the arduino to control LEDs based on the resisitivity of the sensor. Another group built an arm band to monitor skin temperature. They learnt that packing 10 LEDs, a microcontroller, batteries and an temperature sensor into a package the size of a iphone can lead to wiring complexities. The winning group instrumented a running shoe with pressure-sensitive pads to measure gait continuously during the running cycle. They sewed their Flora onto the shoe and daisy-chained LEDs around the shoe with conductive thread. They went shopping to find low-cost trainers which fitted a team member and also gave them something additional to write about in their sustainability analysis.

 

Range of smart clothing

Students enjoyed the scenario, some saying this was the first time they’d ever worked as a team under pressure. They were ambitious and undaunted by such an open-ended task. Despite one team doing a complete redesign at the beginning of Day 4 out of 5, project management and budgeting were good even when students were tempted to go over budget (see  title of post!). All worked hard and Jenny had fun leading it, with great support from Eve, the lab technician. All enjoyed the occasional punctuations from smoking components and whoops of success. There’s now competing demand for the clothing, with students wanting to take them home to show family and friends and us wanting to hang onto them to entice prospective students in UCAS visits to join us next year.