An unprecedented lockdown for COVID-19 has unfortunately led many of us to having to adapt our daily lives and work to function well at home. For me, this meant using remote delivery to teach my students the Unit 6 - Mechatronics, which has proved to be a challenge.

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The first step I had to take was identifying the training needs and fully inform my students on how to utilise the Microsoft Teams* app and the virtual learning environment (VLE) app on their phones and laptops in preparation for lockdown.

This involved enquiring about the digital and online access the students had at that time and what they would need in the coming weeks, as well as supporting them in acquiring the essential hardware and software resources. Regular communication with the students was a top priority for me, so I then agreed the channels of communications with them and made sure that they were all able to log on to Microsoft Teams for the timetabled sessions.

Bringing students on board

Next, I discussed my plan on approaching Unit 6 in lockdown with my students to receive some of their thoughts on it, enabling me to revise my strategy and adapt Unit 6 for remote delivery in the way they had also agreed was suitable for them. 

One of the biggest difficulties I faced was ensuring that all the students were following the engagement expectations and were in full understanding of the topic being covered. I found that the easiest way to do this was by scheduling regular communication with the students using Microsoft Teams and emails, allowing me to provide extra support where required.

At some points, technological concerns like issues with accessing the VLE had surfaced, adding to the pressure I was already facing and leading me to having to organise different ways for students to access their work and complete it, which did partially disrupt my remote delivery strategy.

After sorting those issues out, I had to maintain a frequent follow up with the students on the teaching, learning and assessment activities by using phone communications in order to assist, encourage and extend the students’ achievement abilities despite the distance.

Adjusting to a new type of delivery

Furthermore, I revised the scheme of work (SoW) for remote delivery by embedding the activities to ensure that the students had a good learning experience and that they develop the depth and breadth of knowledge, understanding and skills expected for the Mechatronic unit. 

Also, I have ensured that the teaching, learning, and assessment activities are clear, short and smart, providing opportunities for the development of academic and employability skills and ensuring that the students are not disadvantaged to gain higher grades and future progressions. 

During my teaching sessions, I frequently used animations, videos, polls, and discussions to check the students’ understanding. During the formative assessment activities, detailed constructive feedback was given to the students to help them develop a deeper understanding of the unit contents and elaborate on the complex concepts.  

The above experience can be further enhanced to deliver the unit again using a remote/hybrid delivery model as the mechatronics unit provides an opportunity to develop theoretical knowledge and practical skills associated with the mechatronics systems. 

How to address learning outcomes in a new way

The teaching and assessment can be adopted to address the remote learning or social distancing learning need. It is recommended to assess the unit using one assignment as this will preserve the holistic nature of the RQF qualifications. A VLE, Microsoft Teams and Zoom*, can be used to support remote delivery. The students can be divided into small groups to conduct the practicals, which helps to comply with the social distancing requirements.

To support LO1, the tutor can start the remote delivery by introducing a complex mechatronic system, e.g. washing machine, drone, 3D printer, CAD/CAM machine, photocopier, by dissecting the mechatronic system, highlighting the key components, introducing the students to the function and purpose of the sensors, the actuators used and how these components work together with a microcontroller. 

The tutor can set a task and encourage the students to select one of the systems to describe its key components, identify the sensors and actuators used, explore how these components work together, investigate the control system used and finally investigate the mechatronic system specification to propose alternative solutions (e.g. SMART washing machine, AI operated drone). 

To support LO2, the tutor can start remote delivery by educating the students on how to develop a product design specification and how to select relevant sensors and actuators. The tutor should give examples of an application and how and what type of sensors are best suited for this application, e.g. Drone, SMART washing machine, to develop understanding. 

The students can use the proposed alternative mechatronic system solution in task 1 to extend their learning, develop a design specification, select relevant sensors and actuators for their proposed alternative solution, justify the selection and evaluate the operational capabilities and limitations. e.g. for drones; maximum power rating, weight/height limitations, lift capacity, motors power.

To support LO3, the tutor can remotely introduce the simulation and modelling software with examples of a mechatronic system. The students can use solidworks/Autodesk to design a 3D model of a Drone/washing machine to demonstrate their understanding of the usage of simulation and modelling software. 

The student should be able to discuss the advantages and disadvantages of the simulation software, explain the function and operation of a simulated drone in solidworks/Autodesk and explain how the full system works altogether when you simulate 3D model in solidworks/Autodesk.  

To support LO4, the tutor can remotely introduce the safe usage of measurement equipment to identify and correct the faults on a mechatronic system e.g. Drone, washing machine or a mechatronics system. The tutor should introduce fault identification methods and the faulting documentations. 

The students can demonstrate their understanding by explaining the safe usage of a multimeter, an oscilloscope and a logic probe to identify and correct faults on a mechatronic system of their choice at home/work or in the centre workshop. Furthermore, the student will investigate the causes of faults and propose how the system design can be improved to minimise fault occurrence to reduce the system down-time. 

Reflecting on the experience

During the first week, it was a challenge to adjust to the new normal, however, following the set timetable and session plan along with interactive activities and discussion helped tremendously to keep all the students fully engaged on the unit delivery. It helped them to learn and develop the knowledge, skills and behaviours expected for the unit.

Additionally, detailed formative feedback aided students to further explore the topic and elaborate on their findings in detail. Over the next academic year, I will use a similar delivery model with the addition of recorded lessons available on demand on VLE for students to access at their own ease.

Unit details 6: Mechatronics
Suitability for remote delivery Suitable with minor adaptations
Recommended hybrid learning strategy

30% online synchronous (Live)

30% online asynchronous (Recorded)

40% face-to-face (Demonstrations, Practical)

Knowledge, Skills and Behaviours (KSBs)

Knowledge: Taught and assessed

See essential content in the unit specification.

Skills: Taught and assessed

Engineering Problem identification; Alternative design solutions; Writing industry standard design specifications; Software 3D modelling and simulation; Fault identification and correction; Using measurement and test equipment; Design improvements to enhance reliability and maintainability.

Problem Solving; Critical Thinking/Analysis; Decision Making; Effective Communication; Digital Literacy; Numeracy; Planning; Prioritising; Self-Management; Independent learning; Self-Reflection; Teamwork.

Behaviours: Taught and partially assessed

Technical responsibility; Effective interpersonal skills in communicating technical matters; Compliance with health & safety regulations and policies; Commitment to professional engineering values; Motivation and resilience when facing challenge; Positive, professional, trusting and ethical working relationships with the team and respectful attitude.

Formative assessment and feedback Formative feedback is built into the design of SOW to ensure that students formally recognise and utilise timetabled feedback sessions. 
Recommended assessment strategy

Staged formative assessment (i.e. each LO or a group of LOs can be assessed in stages during the teaching weeks with a good distribution of assessment workload)

and

A single summative assessment end of delivery.

Recommended assessment methods 100% coursework
Software (free and paid) Solidworks/ AutoCAD, TinkerCAD, FreeCAD, Creo, Fusion 360, Revit, Inventor, etc.
Hardware (free and paid) Mechatronic system: e.g. industrial system washing machine, drone, 3D printer, CAD/CAM machine, photocopier, etc.

About the author

Dr Raja Toqeer is the Head of Higher Education, Lecturer in Engineering and HN Engineering External Examiner at Macclesfield College. Raja is also actively engaged with professional bodies as a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy (FHEA), Chartered Engineer (CEng) and Chartered Manager (CMgr). Raja is passionate about teaching as it gives him the ultimate satisfaction when he sees positive results in his students’ progress, improved subject knowledge and the development of employability skills for their chosen career aspirations. 

* Pearson does not recommend or endorse any specific products, procedures, opinions or other information that may be referenced in this article.