Design, Build, Test - Adapting to Change in Engineering EducationFollow article
The immediate shock of COVID-19 forced most universities to cancel in-person activities - moving the entirety of teaching and assessment online. The biggest challenges were seen in practically oriented courses in science, engineering, art and design where specialist resources and facilities play an essential role in preparing students for industry.
In engineering, universities cancelled in-person lectures, hands-on laboratories and design and build projects. It was no longer possible for hundreds of students to crowd into lecture theatres and pass through university labs each day. Lectures were moved online with relative ease; however, the practical aspects of courses required a lot more thought. A short-term fix was to increase the focus on research skills, theoretical design, simulation and the analysis of data for assessment of students.
Whilst this approach was okay in the short-term, we should not underestimate the importance of hands-on engineering experiences in providing a well-rounded engineering education. Despite all the advances we have made in the field of simulation - nothing quite makes up for gettings hands-on following the classic Design, Build, Test cycle.
Responding to the challenge
For the start of the 2020/21 academic year, institutions around the world have worked to rapidly evolve their teaching methods to allow students to continue studying - on or off-campus - adjusting to the new normal as COVID-19 continues to disrupt previous ways of working.
Most academic institutions have moved all lectures online, with smaller, socially distanced tutorials taking place where local restrictions allow. This is an enormous step-change for universities and is set to redefine how courses are delivered indefinitely. Practical activities have needed significant rework and demanded new solutions to enable students to still develop valuable investigation and experimentation skills.
RS Components as a partner for many Higher Education institutions has seen differing approaches from universities, many choosing to embrace the challenge, using the new way of working as an opportunity to innovate and bring new approaches to Engineering Higher Education.
Innovations in Engineering Education
To adapt to the new world, we must find new and innovative ways, to enable students to develop the necessary skills required by industry - to design, build and test practical solutions to some of the worlds most significant challenges.
Blended learning is an approach increasing in popularity amongst many universities. Whilst it existed as a concept before COVID-19, this approach is well suited to tackling many of the challenges we have encountered. Universities combine live online lectures with online resources and activities which students can engage with at a time which suits them. This approach is popular amongst many students as it enables them to explore topics in more depth and at their own pace.
We have seen universities take a variety of innovative approaches to adapt their curriculum and delivery methods to facilitate remote and blended learning. Here are a few examples:
- Video demonstrations - recordings of an experiment being conducted and usage of lab equipment can go some way to help students understand how the equipment works and how to undertake an experiment.
- Simulation of laboratory equipment - there have been some examples of laboratory equipment being simulated - such that students can interact with virtual equipment via an online interface.
- Remote access to equipment - some universities have explored providing remote access to their existing laboratory equipment via remote desktop software. However, the ability to do this can be dictated by the compatibility of equipment.
- Providing equipment to students for use at home - in some cases, where equipment is easily transportable and readily available universities have chosen to temporarily give the students equipment so that they can continue to work.
We all hope we will be back to normal soon. However, I have shared some of the best solutions from RS and DesignSpark, to enable students to continue to Design, Build and Test whilst working from home or their university dorms.
Design - at home
Design - the art of forming ideas into a plan and defining how things will look and work has evolved from an analogue, physical activity. Previously involving reams of paper, sketchbooks and engineers drawing boards. We have now adopted digital techniques which allow designs to be created, shared and modified much faster.
CAD design skills are a foundation of most engineering degrees - empowering students to capture their mechanical, electronic and electrical designs in an electronic format. CAD designs can be easily shared, enabling students to share and get feedback on their ideas from others, as well as to simulate performance and later used for manufacture.
Many CAD packages require a paid license - at educational institutions, this often takes the form of site licenses which enables the software to be installed on university lab machines for student use.
In the move to remote and online learning, students need a solution which can be installed on their own machines. Many solutions exist; however, the decision of what CAD package to choose can often be a difficult one - with many factors to consider. If you have never tried them before the DesignSpark software tools: DesignSpark PCB, DesignSpark Mechanical and DesignSpark Electrical offer a comprehensive and free-to-use solution, ideally suited to the needs of engineering students. Comprehensive tutorials, guides and videos enable students to get started quickly.
As students move from university to the workplace, DesignSpark software offers upgrade pathways for more advanced professional features in DesignSpark PCB Pro for buried vias, advanced routing, hierarchical designs and panelisation features. DesignSpark Mechanical can be upgraded with advanced drawing and file import/export capabilities.
Build - Getting practical outside the lab
Design Engineering doesn't always require expensive equipment and tools. You can accomplish a lot using materials found around the house. You might like to check out friend of DesignSpark Jude Pullen's Lockdown Lecture "Rough 'n' Ready Prototyping" where he discusses how many multinational design and engineering organisations use cardboard as a fast and easy to use prototyping material. It is an effective way of illustrating your ideas and demonstrating to others how they work.
Every engineering student should have a good set of hand-tools, tailored to their degree specialism, an essential item to enable them to get hands-on, building and prototyping their ideas. Some universities choose to loan these and others provide thwidth="..." />ese to students within the cost of the degree. In electronics, RS Components Student Prototyping Essentials offers a great place to start putting together the ideal toolkit!
Test - Evaluating your solutions
If you are unable to access your usual university labs, you might consider investing in some essential equipment to allow you to continue to develop your practical skills from home. The university lab cannot be replicated in a students bedroom, however, with a small investment, you can create a great setup, enabling you to achieve a surprising amount!
In electronics, test and measurement equipment can be some of the most expensive equipment in the lab. Oscilloscopes found in many university labs can range from £500 - £10,000. Designed to be used in one location, these pieces of equipment are not so suitable for use in a home environment.
RS Pro PC Oscillioscope and Function Generator
Portable USB oscilloscopes are available which can replicate much of the functionality normally found on a lab-bench oscilloscope. The RS Pro and PicoScope range of portable Oscilloscopes offer a convenient solution for use in a home-lab/office/bedroom environment. This compact device provides the interface between the oscilloscope probe and PC - with all visualisation and analysis features included in the free-of-charge PicoScope software. Learn more about RS Higher Education Electronics Solutions.
Looking for inspiration?
If you are an academic looking for some inspiration for student projects, or a student about to embark on your project, check out the Student articles on DesignSpark. You will find students from around the world sharing the projects they are most passionate about.
Working on something cool?
Share your projects with the community on DesignSpark.com with over 1 million members - there is sure to be someone who is inspired by what you do!
Are you an academic looking for support? Find out how RS Components can support you in the move to remote teaching and learning.
RS Components Grass Roots programme aims to address the gap between university and the workplace - to develop the next generation of engineers. Want support with your university project or some support in becoming a more well-rounded engineer? Get in contact, we would love to work with you and your student groups.