First Steps into Practical Engineering for Freshman Students Using MATLAB and LEGO Mindstorms Robots


  • A. Behrens
  • L. Atorf
  • R. Schwann
  • J. Ballé
  • T. Herold
  • A. Telle



first semester students, freshman course, practical engineering, introduction to programming, MATLAB, LEGO Mindstorms, robotics laboratory, project-based learning


Besides lectures on basic theoretical topics, contemporary teaching and learning concepts for first semester students give more and more consideration to practically motivated courses. In this context, a new first-year introductory course in practical engineering has been established in the first semester curriculum of Electrical Engineering at RWTH Aachen University, Germany. Based on a threefold learning concept, programming skills in MATLAB are taught to 309 students within a full-time block course laboratory. The students are encouraged to transfer known mathematical basics to program algorithms and real-world applications performed by 100 LEGO Mindstorms robots. A new MATLAB toolbox and twofold project tasks have been developed for this purpose by a small team of supervisors. The students are supervised by over 60 tutors at 23 institutes, and are encouraged to create their own robotics applications. We describe how the laboratory motivates the students to act and think like engineers and to solve real-world issues with limited resources. The evaluation results show that the proposed practical course concept successfully boosts students’ motivation, advances their programming skills, and encourages the peer learning process. 


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Author Biographies

A. Behrens

L. Atorf

R. Schwann

J. Ballé

T. Herold

A. Telle