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2013 October 6

Sam Shah and other math bloggers have started a challenge to encourage more math-teacher blogging Mission #1: The Power of The Blog | Exploring the MathTwitterBlogosphere:

You are going to write a blog post on one of the following two prompts:

• What is one of your favorite open-ended/rich problems? How do you use it in your classroom? (If you have a problem you have been wanting to try, but haven’t had the courage or opportunity to try it out yet, write about how you would or will use the problem in your classroom.)
• What is one thing that happens in your classroom that makes it distinctly yours? It can be something you do that is unique in your school… It can be something more amorphous… However you want to interpret the question! Whatever!

I’m not a math teacher blogger—looking back over my posts for the past couple of years, I only see a few that are really about math education:

I use math all the time in my classes (complex numbers, trigonometry, and calculus in the Applied Circuits class; probability and Bayesian statistics in the bioinformatics classes), and I do reteach the math the students need, as I find that few students have retained working knowledge of the math that they need.  But it has been quite a while since I taught a class in which math education was the primary goal (Applied Discrete Math, in winter 1998).

So I fell a little like an imposter participating in this blogging exercise with the math teacher bloggers.

I don’t have any “favorite” open-ended or rich problems.  Most of the problems that I given in my classes have a heavy engineering design component, in either the circuits course or the bioinformatics courses.  Any good engineering design problem is an open-ended, rich problem.  If I had to pick a favorite right now, it would be from my circuits class: either the EKG lab (look for many posts about the design of that lab in the Circuits Course Table of Contents) or the class-D power amplifier (see Class-D power amp lab went smoothly and other posts).  But these are not the sort of “open-ended” problems that the MathTwitterBlogosphere seem to be interested in—the engineering design constraints that make the problems interesting are too restrictive for them, and a lot of them prefer videos to text (for reasons that seem to me to be based mainly on assumptions of the functional illiteracy of their students, though a few times a sounder justification is given). In any event, I doubt that any of the problems that I give to students would be appealing to math teachers, so they are not really germane to the MathTwitterBlogosphere challenge that Sam Shah put out.

It is hard to say what I do as a teacher that is “unique”. It is not a goal for me to be a unique teacher—I’d like to see more teachers doing some of the things I do, like reading student work closely and providing detailed feedback, or designing engineering courses around doing engineering design.

I may be unique in the School of Engineering in how much emphasis I put on students writing well, and how much effort I put into trying to get them to do so.  I created a tech writing course for the computer engineers and scientists back in 1987 and taught it until 2000.  More recently, I have provided many bioengineering students feedback on their senior theses, reading and giving detailed feedback on five drafts from each student in 10 weeks.   In my bioinformatics classes, I read the students’ programs very closely, commenting on programming style and the details of the in-program documentation—these things matter, but students get very little feedback on them in other classes. In the circuits course, I require detailed design reports for each of the 10 weekly assignments (though I encourage students to work in pairs for the labs and reports).  I evaluate the students almost as much on their writing as on their designs—engineers who can’t write up their design decisions clearly is pretty useless in the real world.

I’ve not done much about math writing, though a good class on mathematical writing (using Halmos’s How to Write Mathematics) would be a great thing for the university to teach. I have blogged before about writing in math classes, in my post Out In Left Field: Two ways to ensure learning, which is a response to a post by Katherine Beals: Two ways to ensure learning.  In my post, I distinguished between writing mathematics and the sort of mushy writing about mathematics that many high school teachers favor these days.

Centering engineering courses on doing engineering design is a very important thing, but it is not a unique contribution—I’m not the only professor in the School of Engineering who puts the lab experience at the center of a course design. Gabriel Elkaim’s Mechatronics course is a good example, as are most (all?) of the lab courses that Steve Petersen teaches.  In think that, in general, the Computer Engineering department does a good job of highlighting design in their courses, as does the Game Design major.  I just wish that more of the engineering classes did—especially those where it is much easier just to teach the underlying science and hope that students pick up the engineering later.

At the end of this post, I’m feeling the lack of a good conclusion—I don’t have any open-ended problems to share with math teachers, and I don’t have anything really unique about my teaching that will make math teachers want to emulate me.  I just hope that even a weak contribution to “Mission 1″ is useful, if only to make other participants feel better about their contributions.

2013 October 5

Balancing fun and fundamentals

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 09:53
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One oft-cited axiom in the MOOC debate is that Math and CS are easier to MOOC-itize than other fields. This is one fact that crosses the intellectual aisle. MOOC-leaning scientists and anti-MOOC humanists both take for granted that the teaching of math and programming should be the first to be automated. As you might have guessed, I whole-heartedly disagree. If you can’t automate the teaching of writing you can’t automate the teaching of math. You can automate multiplication drills, but you can also automate spelling drills. Humanists don’t consider spelling writing, Mathematicians don’t consider multiplying math. And for the record, computer scientists don’t consider programming language syntax computer science. Spelling is necessary to write. Multiplication is necessary to do math. Writing grammatically correct programs is necessary to study algorithms. But those aren’t the interesting parts of those disciplines, for exactly that reason, they can be automated. Academics are concerned with new knowledge, and that necessarily lives on the boundary of what is known and what is unknown. And if we can automate something, we know it very well.

I agree with him whole-heartedly.  The Java syntax courses that pass for first programming classes are a lot like spelling, grammar, or arithmetic drills.  They are essential skills, but boring as hell. Details matter, but details are not the whole picture.

One approach that gets used a lot in K–12 education is to drop the drills and concentrate on the “fun” parts.  This has dominated English teaching at the elementary and secondary school levels for a while now, so that many students entering college cannot spell and have only the vaguest notions of what a grammatical sentence is.  They’ve also only written self-reflections and literary analysis—styles of writing that have little existence outside English classrooms. Some math curricula have gone the same way, and students are entering college unable to multiply or add fractions and with only vague ideas about algebra, trigonometry, or complex numbers.  I can’t support a system in which fundamental concepts are ignored in this way.

Another approach is not to allow kids to do the fun stuff until they have mastered the fundamentals (the finish-your-spinach-or-no-dessert approach).  Unfortunately, the result is that many students never get to the fun stuff, and end up believing that huge swaths of knowledge are inaccessible and uninteresting.  Note: this approach dominates many engineering schools, which do a bottom-up approach teaching years of math, physics, and “fundamentals” before getting to engineering design, which is the heart of the field—the result is often a very high attrition rate and “engineers” produced who can’t actually do any engineering.

I think that a balanced approach, that mixes fun stuff in from the beginning but continues to teach the boring details, is essential to effective teaching in any field.

I am trying to create such courses for the bioengineering majors at UCSC: the applied circuits course, for example, and a new freshman design seminar. The bioengineering major at UCSC probably has the least engineering design of any of the majors in the School of Engineering (except for Technology and Information Management, which I don’t think belongs in the School of Engineering).  I want to fix that flaw in the curriculum, but it is hard to overcome the “you have to know all this before you can do anything” attitude of both students and faculty.  Fitting in all the prerequisite chains for math, physics, chemistry, biology, programming, and statistics makes it very difficult to schedule courses for freshman—students need to get prereqs done early enough that they can finish in 4 years.

I think that the computer engineering department at UCSC does a good job of mixing in engineering design down to at least the 2nd year courses (I’ve not looked at their freshman courses lately—they may be doing well there also).  I’m less impressed with what computer science has done, though the large sizes of their courses make good teaching and design content harder to incorporate.  Their game-design major does get into design much sooner than the standard CS course sequence, I believe. I’m decidedly unimpressed with EE, where there is no design content at all until the 3rd or 4th year, even where it could have been easily incorporated.

Note that engineering design is damn hard to MOOCify.  The essence of design is that the answers are not known in advance—there are many ways to achieve desired design goals.  There are also many different tradeoffs to make in setting the design goals.  Students not only have to come up with designs, but have to build and test them—the real world is very important in engineering, and simulation is rarely an adequate substitute. (Note, I’m not saying that engineering students should not use simulations. Learning how to use simulators properly and what their strengths and limitations are is an important part of engineering education—but simulation-only education is not sufficient.)

One problem I am facing in trying to improve the bioengineering curriculum is that most of our bioengineering students are in the biomolecular engineering track.  Molecular engineering is decidedly slower and needs more science background than most other fields of engineering (which is why it is mainly a graduate field elsewhere). It is particularly hard to provide freshman with design experience in molecular engineering.

UCSC has one honors course that attempts to provide this experience to freshmen, but the capacity in the course is only about 20 (shortage of wet-lab space and teaching resources), and probably only 3 or 4 bioengineering students qualify for the honors course—what do we do with the other 50–100 bioengineering freshmen?

The freshman design course I’ll be creating this winter will be able to handle maybe half of them, but it will be focusing on designing low-cost do-it-yourself instrumentation, not molecular engineering.  (I’m hoping that we can entice more students into the bioelectronics and rehabilitation tracks, and reduce the load on the biomolecular track.) The course is just 2 units, not 5, so that students can add it to a nominally full schedule, without delaying any of their required courses. That was all I thought I could get students to take with the current curriculum.

I’d like to have a required 5-unit course with substantial engineering design in the freshman year, and not just a 2-unit optional course, but I don’t currently see how to fit that in even with a revised curriculum—it would require reducing the chemistry requirements for the degree substantially, and the Chem department is unlikely to create a faster route to biochem.

2013 August 14

Service courses

Filed under: Circuits course — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 22:36
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Joe Redish, in his blog The Unabashed Academic: wrote a post On service courses, in which he talked about a physics course he teaches, recognizing that the primary audience is not physics majors:

In physics departments, a lot of the students we teach are not going to be physics majors.  They are going to be engineers, chemists, computer scientists, biologists, and doctors.  Everybody (that is, all physicists) agrees that physics is good for all future scientists since physics is the basis of all other sciences—at least that’s the way it seems to physicists.

He added that they wanted to take my course, despite the fact that they were biology majors and therefore it wasn’t of much relevance for them.

Well!  Despite the fact that I had thought carefully about what might be useful for biologists in their future careers, and focused on developing deep scientific thinking skills, it suddenly became clear that I had failed in an important part of my goal.  I had managed to teach some good knowledge and good thinking skills, but I had not made the connection for my students to the role of that knowledge or those skills in their future careers as biologists or medical professionals.  The occasional problem I had included with a biological or medical context did not suffice.

I therefore propose we who are delivering service courses for other scientists—and I mean mathematicians, chemists, and computer scientists as well as physicists—ought to measure our success not just by the scientific knowledge and skills that our students demonstrate, but by their perception of their value to themselves as future professionals.  We can tell ourselves, “Well, they’ll see later how useful all this is,” and they might, but that is really wishful thinking on our part.  If our students see that what we provide is valuable now, they will maintain and build on what they have learned in our classes.  Otherwise, it is likely that what we have taught will fade and our efforts will have been largely in vain.

I wish our faculty who taught service courses thought about their classes this way.  All too often I hear from students that they don’t remember anything from the required science classes, and that the faculty who taught those courses did not care whether they learned anything or not—both students and faculty were just going through the motions without any real teaching or learning taking place.

I’ve never taught a large service course for students outside my department (though my department has changed, I’ve always focused on courses that were very directly related to the major, even when teaching lower-division courses like Applied Discrete Math).  So I can’t speak from experience about teaching students who see no point to learning the content of the course—it must be tough.

About the closest I’ve come is in teaching tech writing, which I instituted as a requirement for computer engineering majors back in 1987.  That course was not one students enjoyed much (there was a huge amount of writing, and a corresponding huge grading load), and many saw it as well outside their area of competence (and for some, it was).  But even the tech writing course was carefully tailored for relevance to the engineers taking it. Every assignment I created was intended to develop skills that they could use as engineers and as students.

I’ve had people come up to me and tell me that they took the course from me 20 years ago (I rarely remember them), and that it was one of the most valuable courses they had in college—which is gratifying to hear, since few of them wanted to take it when they were students.

It is possible to make courses that seem outside the students’ interest relevant, but it takes some serious effort.  I think I managed to do that with the Applied Circuits for Bioengineers course that I prototyped last Winter and will be teaching again this coming Spring.  None of the students in the course were interested in bioelectronics—they had all put off the required circuits course as long as they could, because they were not interested in the material and had heard horror stories about how dry and difficult the EE course was.  By the end of the quarter, several of them were excited about what they could do with electronics, and wishing they had been able to take the course much earlier—they might have chosen bioelectronics instead of biomolecular engineering as their concentration.  The standard circuits course had squelched almost all interest in bioelectronics—only about 1 out of 20 or 30 bioengineering students had been choosing the bioelectronics concentration, and he was going on to do radio electronics for an MS degree, thanks to a particularly good lab instructor in EE.

It is never enough, even in a course for majors, to design the course around “they’ll need this later”.  It is far better to make them want to know it now, for things that they can do now.  For the Applied Circuits course, I concentrated ton the students doing design and construction in the labs, with just enough theory to do the design.  This is a big contrast to the traditional circuits course, which is all theory and math which EE students will use “later”—totally useless if the students then never take another EE course.

This year I hope to replace the requirement for the EE circuits course in the bioengineering major with a requirement for the applied circuits course.  Those who want to do bioelectronics will still have to take the EE circuits course, but they’ll go into it knowing half the material, and knowing what the theory is for, which should move the bioengineers from the bottom of the circuits course to the top.

I wish I had the capability to replace the chemistry and physics courses also, but I’m not aware of tenure-track faculty in either department who are interested in changing what and how they teach for students outside their own major.  Note that for the circuits course I could not get the EE department to teach the course that was needed—I had to teach myself circuits and design the course myself (which took me about 6 months full time).  And I was a lot closer to knowing circuits (from my experience in teaching digital logic and VLSI design) than I am to knowing chemistry (which the least serviceable service course that we require of bioengineers).

One thing that chemists and physicists could do to make their courses more useful and interesting to engineering students is to put design into the labs.  Engineers want to make things, not just study them.  Far too many of the freshman science labs are cookbook labs, where the students are just taught to follow carefully written instructions to make a series of measurements to get an answer to a question that they weren’t interested in to begin with.  What a waste of precious lab space and time.

2013 July 29

Integrated engineering education

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 10:00
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Mark Guzdial, in The challenges of integrated engineering education, discusses “integrated engineering education”, a curricular approach to getting engineers to learn the prerequisite science and mathematics better:

The idea of integrated engineering education is to get students to see how the mathematics and physics (and other requirements) fit into their goals of becoming engineers. In part, it’s a response to students learning calculus here and physical principles there, but having no idea what role they play when it comes to design and solving real engineering problems. (Computer science hasn’t played a significant role in previous experiments in integrated engineering education, but if one were to do it today, you probably would include CS — that’s why I was invited, as someone interested in CS for other disciplines.) The results of integrated engineering education are positive, including higher retention (a pretty consistent result across all the examples we saw), higher GPAs (often), and better learning (some data).

But these programs rarely last. A program at U. Massachusetts-Dartmouth is one of the longest running (9 years), but it’s gone through extensive revision—not clear it’s the same program. These are hard programs to get set up. It is an even bigger challenge to sustain them.

Overall, I wasn’t convinced that integrated engineering education efforts are worth the costs. Are the results that we have merely a Hawthorne effect? It’s hard to sustain integrated anything in American universities (as Cuban told us in “How Scholars Trumped Teachers”).

I can believe that integrated programs are hard to set up and maintain—any interdisciplinary program that relies on courses offered by other departments is hard to maintain. Even if each individual department has a high degrees of curricular stability, the combination of many fields and many departments can be unstable.

The bioinformatics and bioengineering programs at UCSC rely on courses from about 8 different departments.  Essentially every year one or more of the departments makes a “minor” change to their curriculum that affects our students—nearly always adversely.  The biggest problems come from the Chemistry department, as they keep adding more and more courses in the prerequisite chain to biochemistry—to the point now where there is more chemistry in the bioengineering degree than any two other subjects (and chemistry is not the core science of bioengineering).  The only solution we’ve been able to think of is for the School of Engineering to offer their own abbreviated chemistry sequence (one quarter general chem, one quarter O. chem, one quarter biochem), but we have neither the instructional wet lab space nor the teaching resources to do this currently.  Getting resources from the dean seems unlikely—the dean just gave away the only instructional wet lab space to a researcher (despite the courses already scheduled in the space for next year), and we don’t have the faculty to meet even our current teaching load if any one takes sabbatical leave.

Some of the ideas of integrated engineering education are good: getting students to see the point of learning math and physics before they take the courses, rather than 3 years later, certainly improves their focus and desire to learn the material.  It is not clear that “integrated engineering” is the only, or best, way to do this.  Early design and lab courses may be as effective, without needing such tight coordination among many departments.  (I think that this is the approach that Olin College of Engineering uses, though they are a small enough school that one could argue that they are essentially doing integrated engineering no matter how they structure the curriculum, as long as the faculty talk to each other.)  Of course, lab and design courses are the most expensive ones to teach, as you need competent mentors, and both time and space in the labs and workshops.

Engineering education is properly a hands-on activity, not suitable for large lectures and MOOCs, though those are much cheaper to scale up to large numbers.  I think that a lot of the interest in, and difficulty in maintaining, integrated engineering education is the hands-on nature of most integrated engineering courses.  Physics, math, and chemistry departments are not interested in providing intense hands-on courses for engineering students (though they might produce such courses for their own majors)—at least, not if they can get away with minimally staffing a mega-lecture course.

2013 June 1

New freshman design seminar

This week I filed paperwork for yet another new course for bioengineering majors: a freshman design seminar.  The course idea was started by the Biomedical Engineering Society (BMES), a student club at UCSC.  They were seeing a lack of engineering in the first couple of years of the bioengineering major.  The first two years at UCSC usually have 12 technical courses and 6 general-education courses, but the bioengineering major has 16 required lower-division courses, mostly science and math.  That means that most students don’t get any engineering design courses in their first two years.

The BMES officers brought the idea of a lower-division project first to the dean of the School of Engineering, who encouraged them to get it created as a permanent course in the department.  They then brought the idea to David Bernick and me, and we brainstormed how to convert the project idea into a workable course that has no prerequisites.  We decided to go with a 2-unit course (about 60 hours total work) rather than a standard 5-unit course (about 150 hours) or a 7-unit lecture plus lab (about 210 hours), because bioengineering students can’t really afford to delay any of their technical coursework, so the design seminar has to be handled as overload.

We decided on winter quarter to offer the seminar.  Fall quarter was rejected, since students will need to be advised to take it and summer advising sessions do not really provide much opportunity for peer advising by fellow engineering students. Spring quarter was rejected, because I’ll have the circuits course (with 12 hours a week in lab, plus 3.5 hours a week in lecture, plus grading), so won’t have the time to do the freshman seminar as well.  David could probably do it in Spring, but it would be best if there were more than one possible instructor available.  It’s not clear who would teach the course the first year—I would have to take it on as overload if I did it, and money would have to be found to hire David to do it, as the course wasn’t even thought of when the curriculum leave plan was written for the next fiscal year.

The class is limited to freshmen and sophomore bioengineering majors (or premajors), but upper-division bioengineers will be encouraged to volunteer as mentors (and some may be paid as group tutors).

Here is the catalog copy I submitted (limited to 40 words):

A first course in engineering design for bioengineers. In co-operation with the Biomedical Engineering Society (BMES).  Students choose a design project and work on it in competitive and cooperative teams. Covers team building, design, prototyping, and report writing.

And here is the more detailed “supplemental sheet” that has the actual course description:

Information to accompany Request for Course Approval

Sponsoring Agency: Biomolecular Engineering
Course #: 88A
Catalog Title: BMES freshman design seminar
Please answer all of the following questions using a separate sheet for your response.

1. Are you proposing a revision to an existing course? If so give the name, number, and GE designations (if applicable) currently held.
This is not a revision to any existing course.

2. In concrete, substantive terms explain how the course will proceed. List the major topics to be covered, preferably by week.
This course is a project course for freshmen, done in conjunction with the Biomedical Engineering Society (BMES), a student organization on campus.

1. The class will choose a project for the quarter, with advice from BMES and the instructor.  Lab and fabrication facilities will be toured.
2. Instructor and reference librarians will introduce students to finding detailed information in the library and on the web relevant to the course (finding data sheets for parts, finding tutorials on relevant theory, searching for survey articles and application notes, using EndNote or BibTeX to maintain a bibliography, …).  Students will choose topics relevant to the project to research.
3. Students will present the results of background research and brainstorm approaches to the design problem.  Students will be assigned the task of finding and reading data sheets for components they might need.  Students will write a clear set of design goals for the project.
4. Teams will be formed to prototype different approaches. Dynamics of team formation and functioning will be discussed.  Procedures will be determined for abandoning unpromising approaches, merging teams, and starting new ones.
5. Weeks 5–8 will involve prototyping projects, with instruction in prototyping technologies and tools (laser cutter, soldering, drill press, glass bending, … ) as needed.  Written drafts of design reports will be required every 2 weeks—these are cumulative reports, not just what has been done since last time.
6. Weeks 9 and 10 will involve testing and comparison of the different design approaches and a collaborative final design report from the entire class that includes an analysis of all the different designs—their strengths and their weaknesses.  The final design report will be given as a public oral presentation, as well as in a written report.

3. Systemwide Senate Regulation 760 specifies that 1 academic credit corresponds to 3 hours of work per week for the student in a 10-week quarter. Please briefly explain how the course will lead to sufficient work with reference to e.g., lectures, sections, amount of homework, field trips, etc. [Please note that if significant changes are proposed to the format of the course after its initial approval, you will need to submit new course approval paperwork to answer this question in light of the new course format.]
Students will spend 3.5 hours a week in lab/lecture and about 3–6 hours a week in reading, writing, and group design meetings, depending on level of commitment to the course, making this course 2–3 units of effort.

4. Include a complete reading list or its equivalent in other media.
The students will be reading primarily about the background and components for the particular project they are doing, which will most likely be different each year.  For example, if students do a project on building a device to continuously monitor optical density in a liquid culture, they will be reading about the theory of optical density measurements, how liquid cultures are grown, light sources (LEDs, laser diodes, and incandescent lights), photo detectors (photodiodes, phototransistors, and photoresistors), and whatever other knowledge they need to design and build their prototypes.  Most of this reading will be from the internet and books or journal articles from the library.
Discussions on team formation may be based on a book like Teamwork and Project Management, 3rd edition by Karl A. Smith and P.K. Imbrie, but a shorter, more readable presentation is probably needed.  Short articles like http://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/newLDR_86.htm (“Forming, Storming, Norming, and Performing”) or http://www.clemson.edu/OTEI/documents/teamwork-handbook.pdf‎ (“Successful Strategies for Teams”) may be more appropriate.

5. State the basis on which evaluation of individual students’ achievements in this course will be made by the instructor (e.g., class participation, examinations, papers, projects).
Students will be evaluated primarily on design reports and participation in project design.

6. List other UCSC courses covering similar material, if known.
This course is similar to capstone design courses and senior theses, but on a much smaller scale.  It is intended to be a first introduction to engineering design for bioengineering majors.

7. List expected resource requirements including course support and specialized facilities or equipment for divisional review. (This information must also be reported to the scheduling office each quarter the course is offered.)
Students will need access to a lab where they can use both electronic equipment and standard molecular biology equipment.  Baskin 287 has all the molecular biology equipment, but lacks a multimeter, bench power supply, oscilloscope, function generator, and soldering station.  Several of the electronics labs have the electronics equipment, but lack water, sinks, and biomolecular lab equipment.  A Bunsen burner for shaping glass tubes would be useful for some projects.
Students may also need access to the laser cutter and other fabrication tools in Baskin Engineering 138.

8. If applicable, justify any pre-requisites or enrollment restrictions proposed for this course. For pre-requisites sponsored by other departments/programs, please provide evidence of consultation.
There are no prerequisites for the course, as it is intended as a freshman seminar.  Enrollment is limited to bioengineering majors and pre-majors who are freshman or sophomores, to keep the freshmen from being overwhelmed by upper-division students.  A small number of upper-division students are expected to participate as group tutors.

9. Proposals for new or revised Disciplinary Communication courses will be considered within the context of the approved DC plan for the relevant major(s). If applicable, please complete and submit the new proposal form (http://reg.ucsc.edu/forms/DC_statement_form.doc or http://reg.ucsc.edu/forms/DC_statement_form.pdf) or the revisions to approved plans form (http://reg.ucsc.edu/forms/DC_approval_revision.doc or http://reg.ucsc.edu/forms/DC_approval_revision.pdf).
This course is not expected to contribute to any major’s disciplinary communication requirement, though it will include feedback on writing design reports so that students are better prepared for writing in upper-division technical courses.

10. If you are requesting a GE designation for the proposed course, please justify your request making reference to the attached guidelines.
This course is a group design effort, in which students agree on an overall design project, split into teams to prototype different approaches to the design, and work cooperatively both within the teams and in the class as a whole.  The course matches the Practice: Collaborative Endeavor (PR-E code): “Students learn and practice strategies and techniques for working effectively in pairs or larger groups to produce a finished product. For example, students might learn specialized practical information such as how to use change-management software to monitor and manage changes initiated by multiple group members. Alternatively, they might learn basic information about leadership, teamwork, and group functioning, which they can incorporate into their own group process. What is common to all courses is that some instruction regarding the process of collaboration is provided, in addition to instruction specific to the academic discipline and the products being produced.”

11. If this is a new course and you requesting a new GE, do you think an old GE designation(s) is also appropriate? (CEP would like to maintain as many old GE offerings as is possible for the time being.)
As this is a 2-unit course, the old GE designations, which were reserved for 5-unit courses, are not applicable.

Yesterday (Friday), BMES met with me to discuss whether the course description met their goals and how to get sufficient enrollment in the course. (I’d had to file the paperwork in a hurry, hoping to catch the last Committee on Educational Policy meeting of the year—we may still have missed it, in which case the course won’t be approved until the fall.)  The students who read the course description seemed to think that the course was what they were looking for.  I’m a bit worried about whether it can be kept to the workload of a 2-unit course.

We also talked a bit about possible projects for the first offering.  Two have been discussed so far:

• A low-cost optical density meter for continuous monitoring of OD 600 (with an LED light source) or OD 650 (with a narrower-spectrum laser-diode light source) of cultures on a shaker table.
• A pulse oximeter for measuring blood oxygenation.

Both of these projects have minimal analog electronics (basically just an LED or two and a phototransistor, with associated resistors).  The challenging parts are the mechanical design for the density meter (how do the sensor and shaker flask interact?  submersible sensor? culture pumped through a tube? waterproofing? autoclavable?) and the programming for the pulse oximeter (I think that most of the usual analog electronics can and should be replaced by programming, but is the Arduino powerful enough?  do we need a Raspberry Pi instead?).

We’ll be encouraging the members of BMES to come up with other project ideas, so that there can be a different project every year.  Another possibility that was mentioned is to build a thermal cycler for PCR, like the OpenPCR project, but the design work there has already been done, and the parts are more expensive.

The two projects we’ve been thinking of so far use only a few dollars worth of parts and a re-usable \$22 Arduino board, so I don’t see any problem in just having students buy the components themselves.  It would be good for them to learn how to find and order parts from companies like DigiKey (though they are an expensive source for 650nm laser diodes: \$9 vs. 5 for \$10 at other suppliers).

Unless we get some corporate sponsorship, we’ll have to run this design seminar on a shoestring, as the School of Engineering relies on student lab fees for consumable parts, and those fees have to be approved about a year in advance. Anyone know a company interested in making a small donation to support such a freshman design seminar?  (It is not worth my time to go looking for a sponsor, but I’d be glad to put anyone who wants to make a donation in touch with the University Development people working with the School of Engineering.)

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