Introduction to Mechatronics Engineering is a new, early-stage subject that was delivered online in Spring 2020, largely due to student demand. It is also part of an FEIT curriculum redesign project towards personalised learning in Mechanical and Mechatronic Engineering. In developing the high-level curriculum, learning objectives and potential assessment tasks and strategies with Dr. Terry Brown and Dr. Felix Kong, the subject goals were to:
- Enable students to be more design orientated and technically proficient in Mechatronics
- Prepare students for Embedded Mechatronic Systems
- Build student confidence to take on personalised learning projects
- Sufficiently present the important electrical engineering concepts that the students needed
- Design assessment tasks that were both authentic and realistic
- Include students as partners by collaboratively designing the curriculum
From online to mixed mode
Due to the impact of COVID-19, we needed to change the way we assessed the personalised project at scale, and the subject has been completely online since the start of the pandemic. A positive outcome of this pressure was that we could build up our Canvas resources to support students who are working in their own time, thus reducing the reliance on content delivery time allocated for face-to-face learning.
The Spring 2022 version is being delivered in mixed mode. I ran Industrial Robotics several times in the same mode (2021-2022), so I am confident that we can offer the best experience for students whether they’re on campus or online, as well as borrowing from a Zoom-based technical assessment strategy that worked so well for us in 2020-21.
We are also looking forward to returning to the large collaborative spaces and getting plenty of students and tutors to be part of a noisy, messy, engaging learning space. Being back on campus will mean that students can easily ask their neighbour if they are stuck and explain a concept to a different student as they seek to find the limits of their knowledge and build upon it each week. Roaming tutors can more easily oversee this process, which is trickier to do in a Zoom session.
The huge library of Canvas content that was recorded during Zoom sessions is still available and has been edited to be concise, targeted short videos, each ending with a set of quick questions or exercises with worked solutions for immediate feedback. This helps students readily find and absorb material. We have also built-up links to a significant number of other online resources to help support students. We will keep the Teams-based support network, which is a fast, intuitive and efficient way to get and give help.
Another adaption is that of online Zoom Viva sessions for assessing student’s technical competency. This enables us to hear the students, see their screen clearly, annotate on their screen so that we can highlight code, or draw graphs. The sessions are also recorded and securely archived by the subject coordinator in case of misconduct allegations, or issues with tutor marking. We will keep this way of marking the individual Zoom viva interview assessment.
Advice for teaching a studio subject
- Make sure there are enough staff resources to support the unique and personalised learning journal of each student
- Use big classes in collaborative spaces with many tutors (as opposed to running many small classes, each with a single tutor)
- Work hard to build up online resources that can be navigated and used, so your tutors don’t need to prepare new material each time
- Empower returning mentors and casual academics to reinforce the culture
- Connect students to your research and industry partners
- Support students working in industry, as it connects them to real-life experiences, has positive outcomes for industry partners and might open up new connections for you too
- Expect scaling up to be achieved in a single session
- Let your fear of running a studio-based subject prevent you from having a go
Examples of student work
Image by Anna Zhu