June 18, 2006
June 18, 2006
June 21, 2006
Division Experimentation & Lab-Oriented Studies
11.140.1 - 11.140.15
A VIRTUAL INTRODUCTORY ELECTRICAL ENGINEERING LABORATORY FOR TAKE-HOME EXPERIMENTS INTRODUCTION A virtual laboratory in the form Java Applets was created for Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE) sophomores at North Carolina State University to support an introductory course on signals, circuits and systems. This is the first required ECE course our students take after they complete the core courses common to all engineering students during the freshman year. The new course was offered for the first time in the Fall 2000 semester and since then, it has been offered to more than 2000 students. The course includes a novel laboratory utilizing custom hardware enabling experiments on various systems level concepts such as amplification, analog filtering and modulation. Detailed information about the course and the hardware laboratory can be found in the proceedings of this conference in another paper by the first author of this paper.
To assess our success in several key areas, carefully planned student surveys were conducted and specific assessment questions were included in the exams. First and foremost, these studies indicated that spending three hours in the laboratory every week is not sufficient for the beginning students to master the modern bench-top measurement instruments. We saw that students' struggles with the instruments (especially during the first half of the semester) could result in frustration in the laboratory creating an artificial barrier in performing the experiments and learning the fundamental concepts. Extra time on the equipment could certainly help; however, limited resources available for laboratory instructors did not allow us to keep the laboratory open outside the regularly scheduled laboratory sessions. The problem became worse when one of the students in a laboratory group assumed the primary operator role, while the others remained relatively passive. A passive student could still record all the measurement results in his/her laboratory book to include them later in the report for that experiments and receive a good grade in spite of his/her lack of active involvement in the laboratory. Finally, a student did not get the full benefit of running an experiment when he/she came to the laboratory without reviewing the background material properly. Assigning a few homework problems related to the next experiment helped but it often did not guarantee satisfactory preparation for the experiment. We believe that similar concerns are also shared by other institutions offering introductory laboratories and they are expected to be amplified even further when large enrollment numbers, limited laboratory facilities and long list of subjects to cover during a four year ECE curriculum force the institutions to reduce the hours dedicated to traditional hardware laboratories. The virtual laboratory concept presented in this paper emerged as a potential solution to address the above challenges. The original idea was simple: create a software tool that simulates the operation of standard bench-top equipment and use the homework assignments to revisit and reinforce some of the key experimental concepts from previous week’s experiment.
A primary objective of the virtual laboratory is to help the students learn the standard measurement tools including the function generator, oscilloscope and spectrum analyzer. The virtual instruments are hard wired to a system under test (SUT), which can be a simple circuit intended for beginning students just learning the circuit laws or a two-port circuit such as an amplifier or filter. The virtual laboratory allows the user to apply a periodic signal to the SUT and observe its response in both time and frequency domains. Therefore, the virtual laboratory
Ozturk, M. (2006, June), A Virtual Introductory Electrical Engineering Laboratory For Take Home Experiments Paper presented at 2006 Annual Conference & Exposition, Chicago, Illinois. 10.18260/1-2--1252
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