Creativity first, Science follows

Dr Clive Cheong Took and Dr Steve Alty, Department of Electronic Engineering

College Excellence Teaching Commendation 2020

“Fundamentals of Biomedical Engineering” was designed based on the common research interest of Dr Alty and Dr Cheong on bio-signal processing. As signal processing is a mathematically demanding subject, some students may find it difficult to cope with the abstraction of signal processing. Therefore, the lecturers have deliberately adopted a more hands-on approach to teach the subject, which the students could relate more easily to their everyday lives. For instance, the relevance of bio-signals in wearables provided the students with the context into which they could develop their own projects and learn at the same time.  

To nurture creativity, a wide variety of projects was offered as coursework. Some of the projects included detecting drowsiness from brain signals, controlling a robot using signals generated from the muscles, to developing an algorithm to provide insight into cardio-vascular disease based on pulse waveforms. Firstly, our lecture materials provided the necessary background of each biomedical signal, whereas our practical sessions gave the students the opportunity to acquire their own bio-signals. Thereafter, the coursework required the students to exploit the knowledge (and beyond) that they have acquired in previous years such as analogue electronics to build the electronic circuits, signal processing to make sense of those biomedical signals, but there was no unique solution to the coursework. The freedom to solve an engineering problem meant that there was room for a great degree of creativity. This is in stark contrast to a typical STEM coursework assignment where an exact scientific answer is expected.  

As at least 30% of the cohort comprised of DDS students, ranging from autism spectrum disorder (ASD), anxiety, to depression, we designed the assessments so that the written examination was not a major source of anxiety for our students. Half of the assessments were based on practical sessions including the coursework project and Moodle in-class test, and the remainder 50% was the examination. This meant that the students were less worried about the written examination due to its less significant weight on the module. The examination was also deliberately set in January as it was a Term 1 only module. To reduce the anxiety of ASD students, they were grouped with their friends in the coursework so that they would be familiar to the individuals they work with. The group project also involved a short presentation, which can be a problem for those students with a speech fluency disorder (i.e. stammer). However, as the students were grouped with their peers, everyone could deliver a confident oral presentation despite any fluency issues.  

To engage students in the lectures, electronic polling was used so that the students could answer the quiz anonymously. Moreover, the lectures were held in the “creative thinking room”, that provides ample and funky space for students to have ‘light-bulb’ moments with adaptable wood ware and screen displays for discussions. The open-plan office in electronic engineering also means that the students can easily engage with their lecturers at any time.


Student feedback  

The course survey reported that 86% definitely agreed/ agreed with

-          quality of teaching

-          learning opportunities

-          smooth organisation of course

-          teaching environment has facilitated the learning of students.


To evaluate how our course impacted on DDS students, some students were approached to provide more comprehensive feedback. Here are a few samples:

“When presenting the final project I didn’t feel like it was a marked presentation because I enjoyed the project so much that I could just speak about it like it was a normal conversation and since I have a stammer I think that this was one of the best presentations I have done.”

“The assessment criteria was split in a fair way. By making the final exam only 50%, it allowed students (e.g. some DDS students) who prefer more hands on work not to be punished by being reliant the exam. The project was run well with fair groupings and interesting topics which could allow each member of the group to show their strengths.”

This module has been the most engaging and enjoyable for me this year (3rd year), and I would highly recommend this module to the current 2nd years who will be looking into their 3rd year module choices soon. I plan on continuing with biomedical engineering into my 4th year which will develop on what has been learnt this year giving me more specialised skills in this field.”




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