June 22, 2008
June 22, 2008
June 25, 2008
Division Experimentation & Lab-Oriented Studies
13.100.1 - 13.100.21
A Set of Computer-Controlled Experiments in Introductory Electric Circuits Laboratories for EE and non-EE Majors
This report is focused on development and implementation of a set of Virtual Instruments (VIs) for all lab projects of introductory courses in electric circuits for EE and non-EE majors. Due to using the Interchangeable Virtual Instruments (IVI) standard, these programs can be used with different lab equipment with very little software change.
The distinctive features of our lab projects include: (1) Combination of front-panel operation of instruments, which helps the student develop intuition, with the use of Virtual Instruments, which saves in-lab time; (2) A shift of the paradigm of learning in the lab from obtaining a few data points to comparison of several data plots and relating them to theory; (3) Requirement that each student prints out experimental plots before leaving the lab, which helps to authenticate the data and organize the lab reports.
In this report, the Virtual Instruments are described along with a discussion of their educational value, and the statistics is provided of student evaluation of the VIs as learning tools in the lab.
To bring automatic, computer-controlled experiments into teaching laboratories, especially at the introductory level, where they must be accessible to every student, might be a dream of many lab instructors. There are several challenges on the road to its fulfillment, both on the technical and pedagogical sides. The technical ones include: (a) availability of proper test and measurement instruments along with computers, (b) successful choice of software, (c) its adaptation to the needs of Instructional Laboratories, and – nearly inevitable – (d) debugging. The main pedagogical challenge is to find the wise balance between traditional, front-panel operation of standalone instruments such as oscilloscopes and function generators, which help students develop their intuition, and automatic measurements which could save valuable in-lab time but, taken alone, might look like another video game.
Many instructors have reported computer-controlled measurements in teaching laboratories; their teaching strategies range from the creation of entirely virtual labs1 to combinations of use of data acquisition boards plugged into the computer2 to courses based on the NI ELVIS® prototyping platform3.
Our goal has been to develop a comprehensive set of computer-controlled experiments that would complement front-panel operation of real instruments, save valuable lab time, and foster the development of hands-on skills and intuition. The set of Virtual Instruments presented here embraces the contents of standard introductory courses – from DC measurements of volt-amp
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