Note: I no longer teach on this module as it doesn't exist anymore; as of the 2012/13 academic year the material has been incorporated into the EEE Year 1 Lab programme (which I coordinate).
Engineering Challenges is a module taken by all first-year Electronic, Electrical and Electromechanical undergraduates (usually around 120-140 students). The module is primarily a skills-based module, teaching core abilities such as technical writing, experimental design, academic integrity, statistics, and library skills. On taking over as module leader, I observed that regular disengagement had been witnessed as the semester had progressed. To improve matters, I introduced innovative lecture capture - such methods had not been previously tried in ECS's programmes. I aimed to address three key areas:
To improve the quality of the learning experience (evaluable by gauging student engagement)
To improve perception of the module (evaluable through end-of-year module ratings)
To reduce the demand on common learning spaces, by only using half of the physically timetabled lecture slots
All course material was categorised into either 'online' lectures (for background and factual material that could be disseminated to students) or 'physical' lectures (where interaction was necessary). Online lectures were delivered using specially recorded videos, and allowed concurrent viewing of both the lecture slides and audio/video of the lecturer. Lectures were recorded in lecture theatres to make them as realistic an experience as possible, and a substitute for a physical lecture (but with additional benefits of anytime-access, pause, rewind, etc). The changes incorporated key areas of the University's Education Strategy:
Diversity and Inclusivity: Students each have differing and individual approaches, preferences and abilities for learning, influenced by a broad array of factors including experience, age, gender, class, ethnicity, nationality and self-perception. With the changes made, students gained greater freedom in the way in which they learn.
Internationalisation: Overseas students often report linguistic barriers as having a major influence on their academic ability in the UK. The ability to pause and rewind videos was received particularly well by international students, as it enabled them to translate words and terms.
Employability: Improving students' learning and engagement of key skills will better prepare them for the workplace.
Student-Centred Learning: This activity placed the student in the centre of their learning, allowing them to manage their own learning for when it best suits them.
The changes that had been made were evaluated by employing a range of different methods:
>90% of responders were happy with online lectures, with only 8% saying they prefered physical lectures.
97% of responders mentioned one or both of 'the freedom to watch the lectures when they wanted to rather than when it was scheduled' and 'the ability to re-watch sections of the lecture' as positive aspects.
40% of responders found it easier to understand the lecturer, with 44% saying that there was no difference.
Nearly 90% of responders paused/rewound lectures, and 30% watched one more than once.
While most lectures were watched between 11am-4pm, many were accessed at night and on weekends.
Comments from interviews with students:
"Freedom to organise when I want to watch the lecture, that suits me best"
"Can watch them in your own time, so that you actually listen to what is being said"
"if unknown terminology appears in the lecture, you can pause, look up the unknown words, and carry on"
"you can't ask questions and get a direct answer. But if you don't understand it, you can rewind it a few times and work it out yourself, which in some ways could be better for learning".
End-of-module evaluation form:
The average 'overall module rating' raised from a steady 3yr average of 2.9/5 to 3.8/5
The rating given to 'prepared you for exam/coursework' raised from a steady 3yr average of 3.0/5 to 3.8/5
Awarded Prestigious Vice Chancellor's Teaching Award 25th July 2011
I was recently awarded a Vice Chancellor's Teaching Award for my work on incorporating online learning into ELEC1032: Engineering Challenges. This module is delivered to all first-year Electronic, Electrical and Electromechanical undergraduates in ECS (in 2010/11, 139 students). It is primarily skills-based and, in previous years, disengagement has been witnessed as the semester progresses. This year, I introduced the delivery of lecture material online with an aim to improve the learning experience and students' perception of the module.
All module material was categorised into one of two equally sized categories: one for background and factual material that could be 'disseminated' to students (to be delivered online), and the other where interaction and learning activities were necessary (to be delivered traditionally). This meant that students could watch these lectures when it fitted their personal learning styles. In a number of cases, the online lecture was used to teach the theoretical principles, while the subsequent traditional lecture delivered linked and appropriate learning activities, thus best exploiting the contact time. The online lectures were delivered using specially recorded videos (supplemented by printable lecture slides and other additional resources) on Blackboard, the institutional VLE. These were strategically scheduled into the module as if they were traditional lectures.
The changes were very well received by the students, with the overall module rating improving from 2.9 (static over the last three years) to 3.8. The changes have given students greater freedom in the way in which they learn, for example allowing them to watch lectures when it best suits their learning style, pause the lecture while they look up more information, and rewind and watch again difficult topics. This has also proved beneficial to international students, as the majority found the online lectures easier to understand, and were able to pause the lecture while they translated unknown words.
Second-year Electronics students in ECS had a fittingly Olympic theme for this year's D4 design exercise, traditionally a very competitive culmination to practical work in the first two years. Student teams were set the challenge of building an intelligent robot capable of playing football without human input to take part in the fictional 'Robot Olympics'. The students had only three weeks to design, build, test, and demonstrate a complete electronic system. Pressure on the students was intense as they worked round the clock to design their intelligent robots. Against a set of tough specifications, the students worked in groups, partitioning a large task amongst the individual team members. The students were expected to show initiative, creativity and innovation, to deploy good time management and trouble-shooting skills, and to undertake technical and market research, costing and budget analysis.
"Teams were named after countries, with my team being Team France," said Arinze Ekwosimba, studying MEng Electronic Engineering with Wireless Communications. "We had effectively two weeks to design and implement our prototype - it was undoubtedly the most stressful, challenging, draining and demanding part of my degree thus far!"
"The D4 design exercise is the culmination of two years of hands-on lab experience, requiring students to apply all of the skills and knowledge that they have learnt to solve a complex design problem," said Dr Geoff Merrett, lecturer and coordinator of first-year labs.
During the final judging session, Dr Matt Sacker of BAE Systems Detica congratulated the students on the quality of what they had achieved. "The D4 design exercise provides students with a real-world experience of electronic system design. The exercise matches a product's development from requirements capture through to prototype development", he said. "This provides Electronics students with valuable practical experience that gives them a head-start when applying for jobs and working in industry".
The winning team members were: Bryony Howard, Zachary Jelley, Henry Lovett, Thomas Smith, James Cooke, and Lewis Russell. Each received £100 from BAE Systems Detica as their prize. The exercise was run by Dr Geoff Merrett, Professor Steve Gunn and Dr Rob Maunder, with support from Dave Oakley, Jeff Hooker and David Kemmish.
D4 2011 (HG WELLS): Back to the Future 27th May 2011
A critical stage in building the gaming device!
Photo copyright Abdeljalil Belouettar, 2011
Second-year Electronics students were presented with a testing and unusual 'time-travel' challenge in this year's Systems Design Exercise. Known to generations of students as 'D4', the project was sponsored for the second time by Detica, with components provided by TI.
Working in teams of four to six students for just 11 days, the students were asked to use state-of-the-art components to build a handheld video game system that could be taken back in time and marketed competitively in 1985. Judging criteria for the product's success were defined as performance, features, price, aesthetics, and innovation.
The teams received precise specifications: for example, the device had to feature graphics and audio that would appeal to the 1985 market. The teams were also asked to make a video advert for their product and take part in a competitive pitch for their design in front of the judges and their classmates.
The judges were Dr Matt Sacker of the Detica Electronic Systems Group and an alumnus of ECS-Electronics and Computer Science at the University of Southampton, along with Tim Forcer of ECS and Bob Bacon of TI.
"ECS actively encourages the involvement of industry-leading electronics companies in its undergraduate programmes, said Professor Steve Gunn, Course Leader. "This is great for the students - they hear about the latest developments in this fast-moving industry and have an opportunity to find out what employers are looking for in the next generation of electronic engineers."
Pressure on the students was intense as they worked round the clock to design their handheld video game systems. Against a set of tough specifications, the students worked in groups, partitioning a large task amongst the individual team members. The students were expected to show initiative, creativity and innovation, to deploy good time management and trouble-shooting skills, and to undertake technical and market research, costing and budget analysis.
During the final judging session, Dr Sacker congratulated the students on the quality of what they had achieved: "The quality of the work produced by the students this year was much greater than when I was a student 10 years ago", he said. Describing the kinds of careers available in Detica and the quality of students for which the company is looking, Dr Sacker said that ECS students had a real advantage in the job market because of their experience of project work. "You have something very substantial that you can talk about at interviews as a result of your projects and real world experience, and that really makes Southampton students stand out," he said.
The year 1985 was chosen for the time-travel element of the project because, according to ECS Electronics lecturer Dr Rob Maunder, it represented the golden age of bedroom video game development, when successful video games could be written by a few developers, in a few weeks. "As games became more sophisticated, video game development became the exclusive domain of large development teams, with large budgets and long timescales," said Rob. "However, with the recent emergence of mobile phone gaming and indie game distribution channels, a second age of bedroom video game development is flourishing and we wanted to tap into this for D4."
The winning team members were: Thomas Conheeney, Robert Gillott, Michael Smith, Matthew Brejza and Thomas Olak. Each received £100 from Detica for their prize. Course leaders were Professor Steve Gunn, Dr Geoff Merrett and Dr Rob Maunder, with support from Tim Forcer, Jeff Hooker and Dave Oakley.
D4 2010 (POLARIS): Mixed Signal Oscilloscopes 14th April 2010
The Electronics Lab as the deadline approached
Photo copyright Andy Vowles
This year's D4 System Design Exercise presented a particularly testing challenge to second-year Electronics students, who worked in teams to design and build a portable Mixed Signal Oscilloscope in 11 days. Teams were given precise specifications, for example, the device had to feature 8 digital channels and 1 analogue, have a graphical display, be portable and robust, and able to operate in the field. Pressure on the students was intense as they worked round the clock to design their oscilloscopes and build a prototype while handling other module deadlines. At the end of the 11 days, the teams had to make a competitive pitch for their design in front of the judges and their classmates.
The competition was sponsored by Detica, and Dr Matt Sacker of the Detica Electronic Systems Group and an alumnus of the School of Electronics and Computer Science, was one of the judges. "The D4 exercise is all about translating the skills and knowledge learnt from the course into a practical design exercise, and therefore having industrial input and support in this process is invaluable," said Dr Geoff Merrett, one of the course leaders. "As an ECS alumnus (both undergraduate and postgraduate!), Matt is in a perfect position to explain the challenges and relevance of applying the skills and knowledge he learnt at University to his subsequent career. He has fond memories of the D4 exercise from when he was an undergraduate and, during his presentation to the students at the final 'trade fair', was able to explain how the lessons that teams learnt in both project management and 'design-and-build' electronics will directly apply to their future careers."
The winning team members were: Tristan Bogle, Avadhi de Costa Tom Dell, Adam Malpass, Bekki Robinson, and Miraj Wanaguru, and each received £100 from Detica for their prize. Course leaders were Professor Steve Gunn, Dr Geoff Merrett and Dr Rob Maunder, with support from Tim Forcer, Jeff Hooker and Dave Oakley.
Read undergraduate student Adam Malpass's blog: "The most intense few weeks of my University life..."