New Orleans, Louisiana
June 26, 2016
June 26, 2016
August 28, 2016
Electrical and Computer
This paper documents an innovative, project-based 1st year course in electrical and computer engineering recently developed and implemented at [Institution name]. The primary objective of the course is to engage students in authentic engineering work early in their academic careers. Previous studies have shown that student engagement often leads to increased student retention rates in engineering programs. Moreover, including engineering work in the 1st year of a program often better prepares students for their subsequent and more advanced engineering courses.
The project currently implemented is sensor and telemetry systems for high-altitude balloons. Students are required to use the cricketsat design approach, which involves an electric circuit with an output that changes frequency based on properties of the atmosphere. The output of this sensor circuit is then used to amplitude modulate a 433 MHz carrier frequency for long distance RF communication. The first milestone of the project is to build and test a 555-timer based cricketsat that measures temperature with a thermistor following a prescribed design. Subsequently, the 555-timer is replaced by a PIC microcontroller (MCU) in the temperature sensing circuit. For the remainder of the project, students work in teams to design their own MCU-based sensor system to measure any property of the atmosphere that changes with altitude other than temperature (EM radiation, humidity, wind, pressures, etc.). Or instead, they can test an engineering design in the upper atmosphere. Students must make a proposal of their planned project to faculty and peers through an oral presentation and written documents. Once the design is approved, students are required to prototype their design on a breadboard. After testing the prototype, students design, populate, and test a printed circuit board. All of this work culminates with student sensors systems being launched on large weather balloons to about 30 km altitude. In the last few weeks of class, students analyze their data, present their work orally, and write final reports.
In addition to project work, this course introduces students to the basics of electrical & computer engineering fields. This is done by presenting overviews of diverse subjects such as, but not limited to: the history of electrical & computer engineering, the electronics development cycle, professional ethics, multidisciplinary team environments, and common development tools used in industry. Students are expected to apply this and knowledge from prerequisite and concurrent courses to completing their project.
In our paper, we describe the course in detail, including examples of student projects. Student outcomes related to both technical and soft skills are assessed using student surveys and project evaluation rubrics. We discuss these assessment results and highlight some successes and limitations of the experiential 1st year course.
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