June 22, 2008
June 22, 2008
June 25, 2008
13.88.1 - 13.88.14
A Program for Distributed Laboratories in the ECE Curriculum
Abstract This paper describes a project that seeks to improve undergraduate learning by developing a cohesive program where experiments are introduced into a wide selection of ECE courses that currently do not have labs. Most of the experiments are low cost and portable, which facilitates a decentralized laboratory environment where students perform the experiments at their homes or in the classroom rather than in dedicated laboratories. We will assess our work through the involvement of twelve faculty members teaching ten courses, some of which are offered in distance learning settings.
1. Introduction Experiments are vital to the understanding of basic principles of science and engineering, yet experiments are generally relegated to laboratory courses conducted in centralized laboratories containing expensive equipment. Another model, discussed here, is to build low-cost experiments that can be used in the classroom or at home by students. Recent advances in embedded processors and in sensor technology makes it possible to develop low-cost processor- based experiments that are portable enough for this purpose. Another source of readily available low-cost experiments are those sold through hobby outlets and for K-12 educational purposes, both of which could be used to demonstrate fundamental concepts in science and engineering when augmented with high level explanations and projects suitable for college-level students. At present, the fidelity of the results obtained from existing low-cost embedded processor platforms and simple experiments is not at the level needed for typical lab-based courses, but they can make a big contribution as a supplement to lecture-based courses. Eventually, embedded technology may replace the need for large, expensive laboratory equipment in centralized labs. As such, this program may be at the forefront of a trend in engineering curricula toward decentralized laboratories containing portable, embedded processor-based technologies with experiments that are distributed throughout the curriculum. This trend would mirror the curricula changes that took place from 1975 to 2000 surrounding the use of computers in education. Initially, students used mainframes and card readers in centralized locations. Advances in computers facilitated the move to decentralized computer labs. The most recent move, which is still in progress, is towards student ownership of PCs along with all of the course software. The program discussed in this paper initiates the move from expensive, centralized experimental laboratories and dedicated lab courses towards low-cost decentralized laboratories, where even personal ownership of laboratory platforms may occur.
The use of experimental demonstrations in lecture-based engineering and science courses is not new; usually, demos are performed by instructors in the class. Recently, there has been development of some hands-on experimental platforms for engineering students to use in the classroom or to take home [1-5]. These efforts generally are done on a small scale, uncoordinated between courses and often without extensive web-based support; however, these papers do demonstrate the feasibility and usefulness of hands-on experiments to supplement lecture courses.
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