Bioengineering education research

Summer Research Experience for Undergraduates


Projects vary but generally consist of four basic kinds of activities:

  1. The design of learning materials

  2. The implementation of learning technologies (e.g., web-based courseware)

  3. The assessment of learning interventions

  4.  Outreach activities (for example, to middle school students) 

Many projects may involve more than one of these activities (for example, both designing and implementing online courseware) while prioritizing one central focus.  You may indicate on your application form which of these areas you are most interested to work in.  Please note however that while these interests guide selection, no guarantees of placement in any area can be made. 

Within each project, students and faculty mentors will work together to tailor the work so that it is suited to the individual student’s interest and knowledge base within the domain. REU students can obtain assistance from learning scientists, learning technologists, and assessment experts as needed, depending on their projects.

The following are representative examples of projects in each of these areas.  Please note that these are meant to serve as examples only, and not all will describe projects currently available this coming summer. 

Design of Learning Materials

Mentors Cynthia Paschal and Duco Jansen, 2011, Vanderbilt:

This project developed and updated material for the biomedical module of an introductory engineering class at Vanderbilt University. Past students of this class expressed a desire for hands-on activities in the class. With a theme of LASIK and the eye as an optical system, we added new hands-on activities to help engage students. The first of these activities is a functional eye model. This model can be used to project images onto the “retina” of the model in addition to demonstrating myopia, hyperopia, and presbyopia. Our other addition is a surgery of a gelatin eye. Students will use heated objects to shape a gelatin cornea to correct the refractive ability of this cornea. In addition to new interactive activities, we also added new material. Developments in refractive surgeries are constantly being made, making it necessary to introduce different methods for fixing refractive errors. What needs to be done to fix refractive errors is also an important topic, leading us to develop new lens exercises to help students practice with lens equations and diagrams.


Learning Technology (CAPE/eLMS )

Mentor David Schneeweis, 2011, Northwestern University 

Some new graduate students in the Northwestern University Interdepartmental Neuroscience PhD Program (NUIN) struggle with material that is quantitative in nature, as these students come into the program from undergraduate majors, such as biology, that did not emphasize quantitative methods. In the past, traditional pencil and paper homework problems have been assigned to students, but these do not provide much feedback while they are being worked.  This project was to develop new online homework sets that would provide active guidance to students, including hints to a student if he or she answers incorrectly.  It is hoped that the new online homework sets will be effective in helping students grasp difficult quantitative concepts.  Three modules on basic electrical circuits were created using the CAPE/eLMS system: a general introduction, including Ohm’s law; parallel RC circuits; and membrane resistance models.  The experimental Learning Management System (eLMS) is used to deliver the content to the learners which has been created using CAPE (Courseware Authoring and Packaging Environment). The eLMS interface provides web based functionality and has been integrated with Blackboard to allow instructors to view individuals’ grades, and assign homework.


Learning Science and Assesment

Mentors Rob Linsenmeier and Jennifer Cole, 2010 and 2011, Northwestern University

Mathematical modeling is defined as a mathematical representation of a process, device, or concept by means of a number of variables defined to represent the inputs, outputs, and internal states of the device or process, and a set of equations and inequalities describing the interaction of these variables. Modeling is a very important tool for engineers, since it could save time and money by replacing expensive and/or time consuming experiments that could be ruled out by proper modeling. This project was to analyze engineering students’ mathematical modeling abilities during capstone design. In particular, the aim of this project was to find the stages where the students struggled during the process of modeling, and ultimately gain insight about what can be changed in instruction in order to improve their ability to model. The assessment of the capstone projects involved a few steps. First, a rubric was developed to assess the projects. This rubric had several criteria. Each criterion was guided by one of Gainsburg’s six steps. In 2010, a lecture on modeling was added to the capstone course.  The 2011 REU project then looked for evidence of additional improvement as a result of this while repeating and refining the analysis of modeling skills with a new cohort. 


K-12 Outreach

Mentors Tony Petrosino and Christina White, 2011, University of Texas at Austin

This project had the student serve in a variety of outreach contexts, including as a mentor to underprivileged middle school students during a two-week summer robotics camp called Beyond Blackboards.  Through guided inquiry, the REU student helped them design, build, and program aquatic robots from a LEGO Mindstorm kit while teaching them the principles of engineering and engineering design.  The REU students also served as a mentor to K-12 teachers who were going through professional development training in engineering design under the DTEACh program. Like the students, the teachers also designed, built, and programmed robots for various functions. These teachers would later go on to teach the same design principles to their students, incorporating them into their everyday lectures, and/or lead their school’s LEGO League club in competition.  Finally, the REU student also assisted in starting up the Grand Challenge Scholars Program (GCSP) at the University of Texas, in which the college students enrolled will spend their undergraduate careers performing research and engineering design around one of the National Academy of Engineering (NAE) Grand Challenges. The REU student helped to create a variety of curricular materials as well as recruitment strategies for the program.