Biomedical Engineering Students Are Immersed in Imagination
Author: Dr. Charles W. Patrick Jr., Ph.D.
Much of the biomolecular engineering field cannot be “seen” despite being a highly applied science and technology field. Undergraduates in BMEN 431 are challenged to couple imagination with engineering principles and cell and molecular biology as they investigate biomolecular engineering. Albert Einstein stated, “Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there will ever be to know and understand.”
To capture students’ imaginations, a traditional “sage on the stage” course was transformed into a blended course consisting of multiple synergistic pedagogical approaches, including mini-lectures, visual-based learning, inquiry-based learning, and requisite closed-ended homework problems and online quizzes. Students participated in both individual and collaborative activities. This approach places students at the center of the learning process and naturally evokes imagination. Inquiry-based activities included a series of two-circle Socratic seminars discussing relevant and high-impact peer-reviewed biomolecular engineering articles, in-class exploration of intermolecular bonds, and investigating a biomolecular tool and preparing a research paper. Visual-based learning included DNA origami to tactilely and visually study the form and function of DNA; use of computer-aided visualization tools (e.g., PDB, PepBank, PyMOL) to interactively explore molecular machinery, hydrophobicity, and intermolecular bonds; exploration of cancer drug binding interactions and kinetics at the molecular level; and development of an infographic discussing a biomolecular tool.
A 54-question electronic survey with a five-level Likert scale was administered at the end of the semester to evaluate the blended course. Rather than relying solely on derivation and presentation of formulas and concepts, students were able, for instance, to imaginatively and actively visualize how thermodynamically-controlled “wiggling and jiggling” of proteins and Å-level changes in protein structure affect the binding kinetics of new pharmaceuticals approaching a protein’s active site and evaluate how to quantitatively measure the changes in protein dynamics and kinetics. Assessment revealed that students possessed very little experience with the visual- and inquiry-based learning activities, but by the end of the semester they felt confident using the activities to assist with coupling imagination with engineering and cell and molecular biology. Most importantly, the assessment demonstrated the blended course significantly enhanced overall learning, as well as significantly enriched students’ professional engineering workforce skills (critical thinking, teamwork, research skills, graphical tool utilization). The accompanying video provides a brief overview of the blended course to assist adapting this educational strategy to other TAMU courses.