Go to any gym across America, and you will likely see evidence of “quantified self” (QS) technology.  Fitness buffs are wearing devices that monitor heart rate, calorie burn, speed, and other data bits that enhance awareness and performance.  Technology once limited to intensive care units in elite hospitals is now ubiquitous. The application of QS technology has become a social movement where people use biometric sensors in smartphones and wearable devices to track and analyze personal health data ranging from steps taken to sleep cycles.

Eric Meyer and Mansoor Nasir, both assistant professors of biomedical engineering at Lawrence Technological University in Southfield, Mich., saw the quantified self craze as an ideal way to teach KEEN concepts and entrepreneurial mindedness to first-year biomedical students.

“We were trying to find a way to present students with engaging, accessible projects in their earliest courses so that our students would develop confidence in approaching open-ended problems,” says Meyer.

Through a KEEN topical grant, Meyer and Nasir were able to pursue this opportunity to teach an early biomedical engineering course from a new entrepreneurial perspective.

“Typically, biomedical engineering courses focus on medical devices, which is an area of engineering that is difficult to work in due to the stringent regulatory and marketing environment of the U.S. healthcare industry,” Meyer says. “But the emerging fitness device industry in many cases closely aligns with similar medical devices, only with a much more entrepreneurial spirit and much less regulation. We saw QS as a timely, exciting, real-world entrepreneurship opportunity for our students to work on using the technical skills they were learning in courses across the curriculum.”

Because QS combines miniaturization, biomedical testing technology, social media, and interest in personal improvement, it provides ideal conditions for applying active, collaborative, and problem-based pedagogical techniques.  The interdisciplinary nature of QS is ideal for broadening conversations with engineering students.

“Teaching QS requires technical instruction in human physiology and sensors, computer science and software development, networking, data analysis and visualization,” says Meyer. “But it also provides rich discussion opportunities for non-technical issues such as privacy, medical ethics, regulations, intellectual property, social issues, and marketing.”

In addition, the field is highly accessible to students – they may even carry QS technology in their pockets, Nasir notes. That makes it easier for students to practice the market-based skill of opportunity recognition because they can imagine ways to improve technology with which they are familiar. In turn, these exercises establish a foundation that will help students foster the entrepreneurial skills necessary for more advanced projects.

Meyer and Nasir initially intended to modify one or two courses to instill the entrepreneurial mindset. “But then we realized the modules could be incorporated throughout the course sequence, even from the earliest introductory course, to ramp up students’ entrepreneurial skills year-by-year in preparation for the meaty projects of their later courses,” Meyer says.

Read more on p. 24 of the KEEN’zine.