Before the last day of class, I sent my students an email message with some requests for feedback:
- The group tutor would like students to give him some written feedback on his performance as a group tutor, to improve his teaching skills. This feedback goes only to him and does not affect his pay nor his job evaluation.
The group tutor designed his own paper feedback forms and collected them from the students. Paper forms are a great way to increase participation in the feedback process, but I did not have the time or energy to do that this quarter. I don’t expect to see his feedback—it really was just for his benefit—unless he wants to discuss some of it with me.
- Parts and tools. What parts and tools did you not use? what should have been included that wasn’t? What can be done to improve the parts kit next year? I need to have the parts kit for BME 51A specified by the end of September, so I’ll be thinking about it over the summer.
The students were upset at the resistor assortment not having a fairly uniform spacing of resistors. It would have been more useful to have the E6 spacing from 1Ω to 10MΩ (43 different values) than to have lots of odd sizes and nothing from 82kΩ to 1MΩ (the most useful part of the range for us). I’ll definitely be looking for a better resistor assortment next year, even if it costs more.
I was particularly interested in whether the $10 handheld digital multimeter which I added to the parts and tools kit this year was worthwhile. A little less than half the class had used, but few felt strongly either way about including it (only 4 hands voted to drop it and only 4 to keep it—the rest were in the middle). I think that I either need to work it more directly into assignments (having students do some measuring at home in prelabs) or drop it. Best, perhaps, is to have it available as an optional add-on, but BELS is not happy with such arrangements.
- Lab order. When I split the course into BME 51A and 51B next year, one of the amplifier labs will end up in BME 51A. Which one should it be? I’m wondering whether it would be better to start with pressure-sensor lab, moving the microphone lab to BME 51B. If I do that, what should the order of the labs be?
Students agreed that the mic lab would not be the best way to end BME 51A, and thought that the pressure-sensor lab was more straightforward. They also would have preferred the audio labs (mic, speaker, pre-amp, and power amp) to be grouped together into a coherent unit. That may require even more radical reorganization than I had originally planned, since it would move not just 1 lab, but 2.5 labs from the first half to the second half, necessitating moving at least one more amplifier lab into the first half. That would also put many of the measurement and modeling labs (mic, loudspeaker, electrodes) into the second half, but I think we need to keep the modeling spread out.
I can see I’ll need to give the schedule a lot of thought this summer.
Students liked having the EKG last as a summary of almost everything else.
- Ideas for replacement labs. Were there any labs you would have liked to have done that we didn’t have time for? What should be removed to make room for them? Is there any way to make a more “creative” lab, where students pick a design goal that is less tightly constrained than the current labs? Remember that the course is trying to serve all 4 concentrations, which means a wide variety of interests and skill sets.
There were no comments in class on this topic.
- Book. I’ll be working on the book this summer. Which chapters need the most work (either new material or rewrites)?
There were no comments in class on this topic. Email later said that most of the things they could think of were already in my to-do notes in the margins.
- Videos. Was the oscilloscope video useful? Should I make more lab equipment tutorial videos this summer? Any other short tutorial videos that might help? (Even crummy videos take a lot of work, so I’d rather not spend a lot of time on ones that aren’t useful.)
There were no comments in class on this topic, but I think I’m going to try to do some more videos with my son as narrator, anyway. One email later on said that the video was useful, but in-lab help from the group tutor or me was more useful. I agree with that, but it gets hard to scale up the personal contact, so I had to supplement with videos this year—I still plan to give a lot of oscilloscope direct help to pairs of students in labs, but the video is better than whole-class demos.
- Prelabs. Were the prelabs useful for preparing for the labs? Is there a way to make them more useful (and have a higher fraction of the students completing them)? The pace next year will be less hectic, and there should be more opportunity for lectures and questions before the prelabs are due.
Students definitely felt the need for more time and more preparatory lectures before doing the prelabs. A lot of the prelabs were overwhelming to the students, and even I felt that the prelab before the preamp lab was much too long. The slower pace next year and higher lecture/lab ratio should help. Those who did the prelabs found them very useful preparation for the labs, but I definitely need to rework the book to make the prelab exercises more obviously useful to the students.
- PteroDAQ. What improvements should be made to PteroDAQ? Do you foresee any uses for PteroDAQ in your future work?
There were no comments in class on this topic, but a later suggestion was to add optional digital filtering to channels. That would be a useful addition, but one of the design goals of PteroDAQ was to avoid package dependencies, using only packages which were required parts of a Python installation. The scipy signal-processing package is very nice, but is not part of the standard distribution. Students with anaconda or enthought distributions (which include scipy) had more installation and update problems than those who just used the python.org installation, in part because they ended up with multiple Python installations that had different libraries installed, and often ended up updating the wrong one.
- Gnuplot. Were the almost weekly lectures on gnuplot and model fitting useful? Do you have a better appreciation of how to choose models for your data and fit the models to the data? Do you foresee using gnuplot in preparing reports for other classes or projects?
There were no comments in class on this topic, but later email indicated that gnuplot was useful and they appreciated having freeware for high-quality graphics, but that more time needs to be spent on modeling and gnuplot—one student even suggested a full course on gnuplot and fitting models. There is a scientific visualization course being taught next year, using matplotlib in Python, though, not gnuplot. I like matplotlib also, but it requires more programming skill than gnuplot, and the model-fitting libraries available for Python are definitely far harder to use than gnuplot.
- Lab partners. Did the forced partner practice work for you? The intent was manifold: cutting the grading in half, having someone to talk with to reduce confusion, having someone to check your work, getting to know lots of your fellow students and their working styles (both in preparation for later group projects with them, and to get a better feel for the diversity of people you will work with in industry or academia), making sure that no one was able to freeload consistently, … . Which of these intents worked, which didn’t?
There were no comments in class on this topic. Later comments found the partners very useful—working alone on one lab was really tough, but that changing partners often was a good idea (one flaky partner in the quarter was enough, and being forced to have different partners lead to more of a taste of what it is like to work with different people).
- Lab time. Was 6 hours of lab a week enough time with the equipment? Which labs needed more time? Is there a way to make lab time be used more efficiently, since it is a scarce resource on campus? Is there a way to move more of the lab activity out of the lab space?
There were no comments in class on this topic. Later comments said that the lab time was enough when students came prepared, but that it was very useful to have an extra weekend lab time for overflow, especially for the soldering labs, which took more time to do and debug. This year, having the reports due before that overflow lab time probably resulted in a number of unnecessary REDO grades, increasing both my grading workload and student stress. If I can make the reports due after students have a chance at the overflow time, things might work more smoothly.
- Electronics hobbyists. One of my less official goals in the course is to turn a few of the students each year into electronics hobbyists—people who will try to design or build small electronic things because it’s fun. Did I have any success with that this year?
As the feedback session was winding down, I had the students vote on 4 topics that I could talk with them about: motors (stepper motors, brushless motors, …), switching power supplies, internals of PteroDAQ, and resources for hobbyist electronics. Somewhat to my surprise, the resources for hobbyist electronics were the overwhelming favorite (about half the class), so I think that I did have some success in getting a number of students started on hobbyist electronics. I don’t know how many will stick with it, but that’s ok—just having gotten them started was all I was aiming at.
Students also suggested that the book contain more suggestions for hobbyist additions to go beyond the labs.