User Stories

Mondragon University Students Build Practical Engineering Skills Through Project-Based Learning

Challenge

Prepare students to meet industry need for engineers with practical skills and experience

Solution

Provide campus-wide access to MATLAB and Simulink to support project-based learning

Results

  • Low-cost, practical projects supported
  • Student engagement increased with ability to use tools anywhere, anytime
  • Positive industry feedback received

“Campus-wide access to MATLAB and Simulink enabled us to develop and implement an educational model founded on practical, project-based learning that helps students go from merely knowing engineering concepts to knowing how to apply them.”

Carlos García, Mondragon University

A principal goal of Mondragon University is to give students direct work experience right from the start of their studies. In support of this goal, the Faculty of Engineering has adopted a project-based learning approach in which student teams spend four to six weeks of each semester working on engineering projects. Beyond reinforcing class material, the projects enable students to develop skills in project leadership, negotiation, communication, and teamwork.

Mondragon University supports project-based learning by providing all students with anytime, anywhere access to MATLAB® and Simulink®.

“Campus-wide access to MATLAB and Simulink has enabled us to develop a practical and applied teaching methodology,” says Carlos García, general manager of the Faculty of Engineering at Mondragon University. “Within this model our students learn to use these tools to analyze, model, and simulate systems, so they know how a system will perform before they implement it.”

Challenge

Mondragon University recognized that a teaching methodology in which students worked in groups on real projects would produce graduates with many of the core skills required by industry.

While the engineering faculty viewed the adoption of project-based learning as a way to reorient the curriculum to industry needs, the transition to project-based learning presented challenges. First, faculty had to restructure their courses by reducing the number of lectures, introducing practical assignments, and allotting time for projects. Second, students needed the freedom to work on assignments and projects wherever and whenever they needed to, and not just in computer labs for a few hours at a time.

Solution

Mondragon University acquired a Total Academic Headcount (TAH) license, providing all students and faculty with campus-wide access to MATLAB and Simulink and enabling the engineering faculty to integrate the tools throughout the curriculum.

First-year undergraduate engineering students begin using MATLAB and Simulink in programming and other core courses. In mathematics classes they use MATLAB, Symbolic Math Toolbox™, and the MuPAD engine to complete assignments on integrals, ordinary differential equations, and Fourier series.

In class assignments and final projects in their second year and beyond, the students use MATLAB and Simulink to model and simulate systems. For example, third-year electronics engineering students use Simulink to develop and verify a control system for a small mobile robot.

Graduate students use MATLAB and Simulink for Model-Based Design extensively. Students pursuing a master’s degree in power electronics and energy, for example, design and implement an advanced control system for a vertical-axis wind turbine.

For this project, teams of four or five students use MATLAB to analyze and characterize the dynamics of a real turbine operating in the lab. Based on this analysis, they develop a full system model in Simulink that includes turbine, generator, rectifier, converter, and battery components.

Working in Simulink, the teams design and model a control system that uses maximum power point tracking algorithms to optimize power generation for various wind speeds.

After tuning and verifying their design through simulation, the teams use Simulink Coder™ to generate C code from their controller model and deploy it to dSPACE® hardware for real-time testing with the turbine.

The teams analyze and visualize the test results in MATLAB and refine their controller designs based on this analysis.

Doctoral students at the university use MATLAB and Simulink to analyze, model, and simulate cybernetic, telecommunications, and embedded systems in their research. Years of experience working in close collaboration with industry have demonstrated to the faculty that models tested and verified with MATLAB and Simulink accurately reproduce the behavior and performance of the final real product, facilitating validation processes and reducing their cost.

Results

  • Low-cost, practical projects supported. “Simulation with Simulink is a valuable stepping stone between theory and implementation that saves considerable time and money, particularly when a project involves a turbine or other costly system hardware,” García says.

  • Student engagement increased with ability to use tools anywhere, anytime. “With the TAH license, students have the flexibility to use MATLAB and Simulink on their own laptops at home or wherever they are, whenever they want to,” notes García. “In surveys, students reported that this is an important advantage, as it enables them to delve more deeply into their work than would be possible otherwise.”

  • Positive industry feedback received. “Many companies in our area have told us they are happy with the results of our move to project-based learning,” says García. “Companies that use simulation already and companies looking to lower costs by introducing simulation recognize the benefits of hiring graduates who have practical experience with MATLAB and Simulink.”