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You sunk my bioengineering class!

The ASU engineering class that plays, learns — and saves the world from zombies.
How creating a board game prepares ASU students for post-college jobs.
December 23, 2015

How one ASU professor uses board games to teach

It’s Professor LaBelle, in the laboratory, with a pacemaker, and no one is Sorry!

Need a Clue? It’s one engineering professor’s creative approach that’s captivating students.

“I usually have 100 percent attendance in my class Friday mornings at 8 a.m.,” said Jeffrey Labelle, assistant professor in the School of Biological Health and Systems EngineeringThe School of Biological Health and Systems Engineering is part of the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering. and the Biodesign Institute at Arizona State University.

So, why is BME 382 — Biomedical Engineering Product Design and Development III — as popular as Park Place on Fridays when other classes are as deserted as Baltic Avenue?

The end game of the bioengineering class is to teach engineers how to make prototypes of medical devices like pacemakers. To accomplish this, LaBelle has his students form into teams and build real board games.

He said it’s not a Risk.

“I try to convince my students over the whole semester that this works,” he said. “The process of prototyping, it doesn’t really matter what it is — it’s the process that’s important. The board game allowed me to take the product out of the limelight and stay focused on the process.”

Students in the program study an FDA-regulated design curriculum for eight semesters. LaBelle’s class is the last semester before senior year, when they will take Biomedical Engineering Capstone Design.

“I wanted to cover in one semester what they will do in two semesters,” he said. “It had to be simple, short, sweet, focused. … I really believe that an engineer gets very, very good when they’ve built something first, and then go and design something else. It puts them in that box of what do I have to work with? What are my tools? What can I build with? After that, it’s the process of building something.”

Students start with soft skills, like team formation. (“I call it marriage counseling,” LaBelle said.) How will they work together? What roles will they play? Who does things at the last minute? Who is prepared ahead of time?

Teams begin by playing games and looking for specifications. “It doesn’t matter what product you have,” LaBelle said. “All products out there have specifications.”

Everyone back to the ancient Egyptians has played board games, so that end wasn’t a stretch for students. Bioengineering has design controls — what the rest of the world calls standards. For example, in board games, playing card size is standardized. Medical design has patents. Board games have copyrights.

“A lot of the processes are really the same,” LaBelle said. “A 3-D printer, a laser cutter, injection molder — tools of the trade in medical-device design — is also used in the gaming world. It’s so synergistic it’s hard not to see it’s so relevant, but zombies on the cover take your attention away from the fact it’s not a pacemaker.”

Most of the games involve zombies because of popularity (LaBelle cited “The Walking Dead” episode that 16 million people watched, crushing a football broadcast on the same night, which drew an audience of 13 million). Last semester’s Onslaught game challenged opponents to see who could rid the world of zombies and save humanity by buying first-aid kits and ammunition.

Sun Devil Survivor: BME Edition (no less terrifying) took various paths through the Tempe campus from the first day as a freshman through graduation.

Students develop the game, put together all the content, sculpt it, laser-cut it and produce what are incredibly professional-looking board games.

“They do a good job,” LaBelle said. “I call them really ugly final products or really good-looking betas.”

At the final, game producers, developers and creators show up to evaluate the games, along with reps from medical outfits like Mayo, Banner, W.L. Gore and Medtronic. Teams present their game ideas, with a five-minute pitch, to a panel of judges.

Remy Turner was one of the judges at the final. Turner is commercial programs manager at BioAccel, a non-profit organization that assists entrepreneurs with funding and business expertise to develop early-stage life science technologies. He explained why he turned out to judge the finals.

“We are working to improve the quality of engineers that come out of sources here in Arizona,” Turner said. “We give back to the educational community and offer our input in terms of projects. We work with Jeff’s class as an example of that.”

Turner thought the games were “pretty good,” almost all of them identifying a unique niche to target in terms of customers.

“All of the designs were applicable in terms of what the customer segments need,” he said. “One of the things that we try to pull in is a broader perspective on product design. I think they did a good job in trying to address customers' needs.”

LaBelle said he gets judges from across the spectrum to judge final products.

“Someone may come in as an engineer — we had one from IBM — who loves to play games,” he said. “They looked at it from an engineering standpoint — how well is it put together? — but then they looked at from a gaming standpoint: Is it fun?”


Scott Seckel

Reporter , ASU News

ASU helps launch engineering accreditation program in Indonesia

December 23, 2015

Arizona State University, the U.S. Agency for International Development/Indonesia Higher Education Leadership and Management project (USAID-HELM) and Andalas University in Padang, Indonesia, launched a collaborative effort in June under a special initiative called the Leadership Education for Engineering Accreditation Program (LEEAP).

The LEEAP initiative will serve as a catalyst to enhance the quality and competitiveness of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) programs at higher education institutions in Indonesia that meet regional and international standards. LEEAP leadership met to discuss how to develop impact projects that create solutions for Indonesia. Left to right: Abdul Rahman (HELM QA specialist), Hairul Abral (dean, Andalas University), John Rome (Deputy CIO, ASU), Jeff Goss (associate vice provost, ASU), Scott Danielson (faculty, ASU), Werry Darta Taifur (rector, Andalas University), Kathy Wigal (associate director, ASU), Tafdil Husni (new rector inauguration on Nov 2015, Andalas University) and Zainul Daulay (dean, Andalas University). Photo provided by HELM/USAID. Download Full Image

LEEAP is a result of the success of the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering’s involvement in Vietnam with the Vocational and University Leadership and Innovation Institute (VULII) and the Higher Engineering Education Alliance Program (HEEAP).

VULII is designed to contribute directly to Vietnam’s national goal of increasing the quality of higher education while strengthening human and institutional capacity to contribute to Vietnam’s economic growth. HEEAP is designed to modernize traditional Vietnamese theory-based engineering programs by introducing applied and hands-on instructional approaches.

Jeff Goss, associate vice provost and the director of HEEAP, led the ASU delegation and emphasized LEEAP’s significance as an opportunity for industry and academic partners to develop impact projects with the U.S. government to solve some problems or create solutions.

“Accreditation will help to employ students in smart positions and retain the companies’ engineers and technicians to drive growth in the science and technology sector and increase opportunities for technology development and innovation,” Goss said.

The ASU team is assisting Andalas University in reaching global recognition and international accreditation. Andalas will then use it as the primary mechanism to attain international standing as a university.

Scott Danielson, director of the VULII and an associate professor in the Fulton Schools, explained that achieving international recognition requires understanding of what students know and working to improve what they know.

“Andalas University did very well in Indonesian accreditation and now we have to go beyond that,” he said. “Now the university must think beyond the borders of Indonesia and earn the school and its programs recognition in other countries.”

Danielson said there are two routes of international recognition, each with their own scope and uniqueness: Asian University Network-Quality Assurance (AUN-QA), and Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET).

“What we will teach the university’s leaders is what works to gain accreditation from both ABET and AUN-QA. There is more to do for either ABET or for AUN accreditation than what we will cover, because this is a large effort,” he said.

The most challenging part of the endeavor will be changing traditional attitudes and approaches to education, Danielson said. It will take leadership by the dean and rector of Andalas University to drive that change.

The focus will be on improving the quality of academic study programs, which would be of primary importance in earning accreditation from AUN and ABET. The goal is to help the university understand what its students know and what they are capable of doing, and then taking steps to improve their knowledge and abilities.

“This is a special initiative of HELM so we have limited time,” Danielson said. “We are only working on a piece of this — the piece that is centered on continuous program improvement.”

The hope is that leaders and academic staff will be able to document in a data-driven way what students know and have learned and use that information to make good decisions about improving the program.

“That’s what we’re going to focus on. It is only a piece of achieving international accreditation, but I believe it is both the hardest part and also the most important part of the process,” Danielson said.

“The Andalas University LEEAP faculty are fortunate to have the active support of their rector and dean in their efforts,” said Kathy Wigal, associate director for curricular innovation in the Fulton Schools’ Office of Global Outreach and Extended Education.

She said workshops conducted in September, plus follow-up coaching and mentoring has sparked progress in several areas — including development of the academic program objectives and program outcomes, initial strategy and planning for assessment and evaluation necessary for continuous improvement, as well as the individual faculty course development efforts.

“We are continuing our coaching and training efforts by emphasizing innovative curriculum and teaching pedagogy including active learning techniques and problem-based and project-based methods,” Wigal said. “I am looking forward to seeing the next iteration of their efforts in January.”

The ASU LEEAP team acknowledges the complex nature of the international accreditation processes, and emphasizes the importance of collaborative work between all parties, including university leaders, program leaders, key faculty members and students.

Various workshops are planned for the coming year. In addition, results of work done under the initiative will be shared at a Partnership Network Seminar at the conclusion of the project.

Written by:
Erik Wirtanen,
Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering