Circuit board in a box
Dr Freddie Page, Senior Strategic Teaching Fellow, Dyson School of Design Engineering
This summer term, first year MEng Design Engineering students had their first experience of remote learning as a result of the COVID-19 Lockdown and campus closure. The Dyson School of Design Engineering, as with other departments, had to quickly decide how to deliver its educational programme under the new circumstances.
Design Engineering is a hands on programme with many of our modules featuring make and build activities and Electronics 1, lead by Head of School, Professor Peter Cheung, is no exception. Under usual circumstances it is a module with weekly lab activities and a main build of a rock-sensing Moon Rover at the end of the module alongside setting a theoretical basis to underpin the practical activities.
With this being the benchmark, Peter decided early on that all students were to be sent a home electronics kit that would have everything that students needed to do weekly lab activities as well as open-ended challenge builds. This was no small task. Parts had to be sourced from around the world to be shipped to the UK so Peter could prepare a package for every student compirising a digital multimeter, signal generator, oscilloscope, as well as a range of assorted electronic components. Once these were prepared, involving soldering parts for each of the 86 kits, they had to be delivered to students who were at this point located all around the world. Of course, the first 90% of effort went into arranging the majority of deliveries, and it was the second 90% that was spent on getting to the remaining hard to reach places but eventually every student got their kit.
In the module itself, where there was lots to fit in over an 8 week period. Lectures were delivered via Microsoft Teams, which had the benefit that students could ask questions live in the session without disrupting the flow - so were more likely to do so than if it took place in a lecture theatre. It was also one of the first opportunities that the students had had to see each other since the college closed just before the end of the spring term, which did a lot for making the situation seem as normal as possible despite the strange setting. The module concluded with an online lab viva assessment, remote written exam, and challenge videos. In these, students were given open ended prompts of what they might build with their kits in such a way that they could explore how far they could go with a concept. Students submitted videos of their creations demonstrating what they had achieved. Overall, this was one of the first years' favourite modules, and gave reassurance that, at least academically, things were going to be alright. Students were pleased with the new version of the module, writing:
'Peter has gone above and beyond for our year group by making them for us and ensuring everyone has exactly what they need. One student's signal generator component wasn’t correctly working and he provided her with a new part that he personally soldered by the very next day.
We can’t emphasise the whole year's appreciation for all our School’s staff. Their ongoing support and commitment to furthering our education in this time has been unparalleled.'