Although engineering students graduate from their program well-equipped with the theoretical concepts taught in class, they often lack practical knowledge regarding their particular industry . Such gaps between technical teachings and industry requirements could potentially be filled by integrating an industry perspective into programs and course delivery. Further benefit can be derived when such industry-integrated courses offer new and crucial material.
This presented a unique opportunity for collaboration between the UVic BME program and StarFish Medical to integrate an industry perspective into a new Human Factors Engineering (HFE) course: BME 401C – Human Factors and Usability Engineering for Medical Devices with its first iteration in Spring 2019. Where HFE is a branch of engineering that bases the design and development of devices on the user by considering their human capabilities and limitations .
Engineers and industry professionals from StarFish Medical, Stryker, Vancouver Island Health Authority, and other local professionals give lectures on HFE for medical devices. Topics range from technical concepts like contextual and user research, regulatory procedures, and risk management often using case studies of successes and failures of HFE with medical devices. Throughout the course, students complete multiple assignments, a midterm, and a final design project. This project, worth 50% of their grade, requires students to apply the HFE topics learned throughout the course to a medical device of their choosing.
Spring 2022 will mark the fourth iteration of this BME 401C course. Each iteration brings its own successes and challenges, including having to rapidly move the course online in March 2020 at the start of the pandemic. Overall, the past three and a half years have allowed for marked improvements on the course to ultimately offer a better learning experience for students. Lessons learned over these past iterations can be summarized as the do’s and don’ts of developing and running an industry-integrated HFE course.
- Do provide students with opportunities to connect with professionals
Students expressed interest in receiving additional feedback on their project beyond a mere letter grade and comments from the marker. Students wished to connect with the industry professionals who taught them throughout the course and obtain their feedback on the projects as well. Taking this into consideration, in Spring 2021, local industry professionals were invited to attend and judge the students’ final project presentations. Judges included various lecturers from the course and a number of other local professionals in the biomedical space. Implementing this judging panel during the final presentations allowed students to get feedback, not only on their projects, but also on their presentation skills. It was a great opportunity for students to present their ideas to a professional audience and for professionals to hear new and innovative ideas.
- Do organize field trips (COVID-19 permitting)
Prior to COVID-19 and constantly using the term “unprecedented times”, this course involved students getting a site tour of the main office of StarFish Medical. The tour was well received by students, giving them a firsthand look at the facilities and goings-on of a medical device consultancy company. Students were able to observe professional practice and learn outside of a classroom environment, better immersing them in the field and engaging with course content in a variety of ways.
- Do get an email confirmation from lecturers
When dealing with busy professionals, it is crucial to send reminders about their upcoming lectures as well as to get email confirmation that they can attend and give a lecture in the first place. Otherwise, miscommunications can arise and the class may be in for a no-show. For example, one semester, a lecture slot was missed because the planned lecturer’s email address was no longer valid. None of the planning or reminder emails got through to them, resulting in confusion and a missed lecture. This was a lesson learned to get proper confirmation from all lecturers about their upcoming talks.
- Don’t be overly repetitive with content
Feedback from students noted some repetitiveness across different lectures. Notably, a handful of individuals would introduce their company at the start of their presentation. Since many lecturers were from the same company, students received similar information in multiple lectures. This was bound to happen when organizing many lecturers with similar backgrounds. This feedback was discussed with lecturers before the second iteration of the course and any content redundancy was greatly reduced. This helps optimize lecturers’ time to present further topics, maximizing the amount of material students can learn.
- Don’t wait too long to give project details
In the first iteration of BME 401C, the group design project was not well defined or outlined. It took until the final month of the semester before proper details were given about the project. Since this task was worth so much of the students’ grade (50%), the delay generated understandable frustration among students. For all iterations since, details on the design project are provided to students from day one. All of the project information is made available to students on the course website at the start of the semester. As well, a lecture detailing the requirements and expectations for the project is given in the first month of the semester to ensure students are well informed and set up for success.
In Spring 2019, a unique collaboration between StarFish Medical and the UVic BME program developed the HFE industry-integrated course BME 401C. This course helps bridge gaps between the technical teachings in university and practical industry skills, and fills a human factors knowledge gap in the UVic BME program. BME 401C has gone through multiple iterations, seeing successes and challenges every year while making vast improvements each time. As this fourth iteration begins, students and those running the course are excited to kick-off another great semester of teaching human factors for medical devices and adding to this list of do’s and don’ts.
References J. P. Devaji, N. Iyer, S. S. Kotabagi, and A. M. Kabbur, “Industry institution education at undergraduate level: Changing role of the educator,” in Procedia Computer Science, Jan. 2020, vol. 172, pp. 718–722, doi: 10.1016/j.procs.2020.05.102.  V. Hegde, “Role of human factors / usability engineering in medical device design,” 2013, doi: 10.1109/RAMS.2013.6517650.
Image: Tess Carswell
Tess Carswell is a mechanical engineering PhD student at the University of Victoria. Her work utilizes patient-oriented research and user-centered design principles to optimize prosthesis design for female lower limb amputees under the supervision of Dr. Josh Giles.