Developing a Virtual Lab for the Study of Biomechanical Engineering

Grant program: Teaching and Learning Development Grant (TLDG)

Grant recipientCarolyn Sparrey, School of Engineering Science

Project team: Ali Masih Hosseini, research assistant

Timeframe: Summer 2011

Funding: $2,000

Final report: View Carolyn Sparrey's final project report (PDF).

From the final report: "First, this study found that students enjoyed and were motivated by the complementary course material presented in the virtual labs. When these results were explored in more detail, the students responded more positively to lab activities with real-world applications …" Read more >>

Description: Students in the Mechatronic Systems Engineering Program (MSEP) at SFU Surrey have the option of taking Introduction to Biomechanical Engineering as a fourth-year elective. Since it is the only bio-focused engineering elective in the program, the equipment costs and the complexities of conducting experiments in a complementary lab are prohibitive. However, lab experience is critical for advancing students’ knowledge of biomechanics and providing relevant, real-world exposure to tools and techniques used in the field. In this study I will seek to determine how I can most effectively use a virtual lab to provide exposure to industry-specific software and real-world problems in biomechanics. The study will provide important insights into the most effective methods for implementing a virtual lab, the logistical capacity and limitations of this approach, the academic enrichment provided, and students’ responses to using simulations in place of expensive and complicated experiments.

The virtual lab will use commercial software that is standard in the field of biomechanics (Madymo, Tass Automotive). A research assistant will develop the initial simulations for the laboratory experiments. For example, the section on dynamic analysis of human movement will include a model of a car interior with a calibrated dummy. Students will have the opportunity to alter the characteristics of the vehicle interior (seat belt, air bag, etc.) to determine how these changes affect the severity of impact experienced by an occupant.

The primary outcome measure for the virtual laboratory will be student performance on laboratory assignments and on the ungraded quizzes contained in the post-laboratory-session surveys. Evaluation of the assignments will focus on the development of advanced cognitive skills such as problem identification and definition, while the quizzes will focus on the specific knowledge gained from each lab session (e.g., how does neck stiffness affect head-impact forces in a rear-end collision?). Statistics of student time spent on laboratory activities will be used as part of the MSEP’s accreditation process. Finally, student feedback will be used to determine which sessions and assignments were most successful and which should be revisited.

Questions addressed:

  • Approximately how much time do students spend in each laboratory session?
  • How do students report using each lab?
  • What do students report learning from each lab?
  • How do students perform on the laboratory assignments (focus on the development of advanced cognitive skills such as problem identification and definition) and the ungraded quizzes contained in the post–laboratory session surveys (focus on the specific knowledge gained from each lab session)?
  • How do students evaluate the overall lab experience over the course of the term?
  • How do the lab sessions compare in terms of learning effectiveness?