This spring 2022 I’ve been giving the lectures and labs of the new module MATD3039 Advanced Musical Electronics, a 3rd-year module that builds on the 2nd-year module MATD2029 Sensors and interfaces led by John Richards, and the 1st-year module MATD1019 Audio Electronics Fundamentals, of which I was in charge of the lectures. In this module, we would cover the Arduino software, Arduino hardware, sensors and actuators, an introduction to the Mozzi library, building a digital oscillator, and an introduction to Fritzing, among others.
When designing the module, I carefully considered that I wanted to bring the ‘good’ parts of the pandemic, to be combined with the ‘good’ parts of teaching on-site, especially audio electronics. The ‘good’ parts of teaching during the pandemic have been to use the collaborative tools available on Teams, such as the whiteboard or the chat, prompting more collaborative participation among students. I also wanted to promote as much participation and attendance as possible.
One advantage of the module is that it was scheduled on the same day. One drawback was that the lectures/seminars were scheduled at 9am and the labs were scheduled at 1pm. Another fact was that depending on the weekly thematic content, sometimes it was not necessary to be on-site to teach the content.
Here are listed some decisions that I made:
- Decided to teach online or on-site depending on the weekly content, which would give more dynamism to the rhythm of the module. This would include a fieldwork trip to the faculty’s mechanical lab and a 2nd-year student presenting a relevant project on a DIY piano of a student that I supervised for the module MATT2006 Negotiated Project: http://melodymakerresearch.our.dmu.ac.uk
- Support online attendance if a student can’t attend on-site, yet strongly recommend students to not miss the labs when scheduled in-class. All the materials would be available online supporting DMU’s compromise with universal design for learning.
- Focus most of the module on the students’ projects, a project-led approach if you like, thus after the first month of the 12-week module, we would already start discussing their projects, always relating them to the class content.
- Lectures would become seminars, where I would take a facilitator role more than a lecturer role.
- The students were encouraged to write blog posts about the lessons learned after each theoretical or hands-on session.
- Out of the three components of the portfolio (demonstration 10%, video 40%, and report 50%), they would demonstrate their prototype to the other students one month before the final submission (in-class presentation), and the students would peer review their classmates using the criteria of the assessment and explain their marks to the other students. This way, the students would get familiar with the rubric and what is expected, as well as develop critical thinking.
- In the in-class presentation, the students agreed that I would use the average for their final marks for this component (10%). As discussed by the module’s moderator, although the marks were relatively high across the board, things could get balanced out with further criticism in the other components acknowledging that it is important at this stage to encourage their ongoing progress so that they are motivated to get as far as possible with this work.
- The average attendance was 64%, which is positive retention compared to other modules. The student cohort was small (5 students), and most of them engaged with the course from the beginning to the end. One potential reason is that this topic was familiar to the students and they like to have hands-on experiences.
- The module resulted in great final projects, probably because it was focused on supporting the students’ projects from the beginning of the course. The projects were a polyphonic synthesiser with a pyramid form, a triple-axis accelerometer/gyroscope musical controller connected to Pure Data and VST plugins as well as GEM for the visuals, a metronome with different functionalities, and two miniature pianos. All the projects used Arduino or the Arduino clone.
- A pass rate of 100% was achieved at the June exam board.
- The blog was highly successful with a total number of 41 blog posts, which indicates a small cohort that was highly very motivated by the subject of the module: https://matd3039.our.dmu.ac.uk This has promoted good attendance in general.
- Overall, the student performance yielded a median mark of 71%. Although we cannot compare it with previous years, this is an impressive result. This is a positive result that can be attributed to the effort of making the subject relevant to the students’ interests and centred around their projects and ideas and making their voices heard.
Both the attendance and the pass rate results indicate that most of the students engaged with the materials and that happened both in class and outside class. Giving them early feedback on their projects and enough time to complete their projects worked very well. The students also reported that they enjoyed learning from each others’ projects and to showcase their work to the students. They also commented that this module’s style would work less good in year 1 or 2 of the degree. They felt that they were prepared for being more autonomous in their third year. The external examiner of the programme, Prof Mick Grierson, commented that some students that were not engaging in other courses were engaging here, which is amazing to hear. Overall, this course, which I took as an experiment, went very well.
Unfortunately, this course has been discontinued, only having had one instance of life. I thought that I should write a blog post to share the successes that will get diluted otherwise. I would still like to port this model to other modules, for example, the 3rd year in MATD3009 Advanced Digital Signal Processing.
Many thanks to Ashok Karavadra and Prakash Patel from Computing Engineering and Media (CEM) faculty for their constant help and technical support. Also thank you very much to Stephen Cliff from the CEM’s mechanical lab for showing the facilities and supporting the students with their projects. Also thank you to Prof Mick Grierson and Dr John Richards for their positive insights on the module. Finally, thank you to the students for their constant engagement throughout the course.