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Adding Hardware Experiments to a First-Year Engineering Computing Course

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2017 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Columbus, Ohio

Publication Date

June 24, 2017

Start Date

June 24, 2017

End Date

June 28, 2017

Conference Session

Division Experimentation & Lab-oriented Studies Electrical Engineering and Circuits

Tagged Division

Division Experimentation & Lab-Oriented Studies

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Paper Authors


Kathleen A. Ossman University of Cincinnati

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Dr. Kathleen A. Ossman is an Associate Professor in the Department of Engineering Education at the University of Cincinnati. She teaches primarily first-year students with a focus on programming and problem solving. Dr. Ossman is interested in active learning, flipped classrooms, and other strategies that help students become self-directed learners.

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Gregory Warren Bucks University of Cincinnati

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Gregory Bucks joined the Department of Engineering Education in 2012. He received his BSEE from the Pennsylvania State University in 2004, his MSECE from Purdue University in 2006, and his PhD in Engineering Education in 2010, also from Purdue University. After completing his PhD, he taught for two years at Ohio Northern University in the Electrical and Computer Engineering and Computer Science department, before making the transition to the University of Cincinnati. He has taught a variety of classes ranging introductory programming and first-year engineering design courses to introductory and advanced courses in electronic circuits. Recently, he has been working to develop graduate level courses in Engineering Education to support current graduate students interested in entering academia. He is a member of ASEE, IEEE, and ACM.

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Adding Hardware Experiments to a First-Year Engineering Computing Course

At a large university in the Midwest, all first-year engineering students are required to take a two-semester sequence, Engineering Models I and II, which introduces students to the computational software package, MATLAB®, and shows how computing can be used as a tool for solving engineering problems. Course materials are designed to show the importance of computing in engineering and to tie together calculus, chemistry, and physics concepts within an engineering context. The focus of the first course is on developing computing, problem-solving, and logical thinking skills.

Three years ago, two hardware/software labs were introduced in the first course to illustrate how software and hardware can interact to automate the collection and analysis of data or to develop a new system. In the first year, the Digilent Analog Discovery was used as the data acquisition device (DAQ) to interface between MATLAB and some simply circuitry. In the first lab, students wired a series RC circuit. Students wrote MATLAB code to prompt the user for a desired frequency, created a square wave with the desired frequency, and applied the square wave to the circuit using the DAQ. Voltage measurements across the capacitor were sent via the DAQ back to MATLAB for plotting and analysis. In the second lab, students wired a circuit with an LED, a photocell, and several resistors. They wrote MATLAB code to control the brightness of the LED based on the ambient light level as measured by the photocell. Since that first year, several more labs have been developed, including the use of pulse width modulation (PWM) to control the brightness of an LED, a refrigerator door alarm that sounds a buzzer if an LED is on too long, and a heating/cooling thermostat which uses input from a temperature sensor. The Digilent Analog Discovery was also replaced with the National Instruments’ MyDAQ after the first year of implementing the hardware labs.

The focus of this paper will be to describe the experiments and to explain how these experiments are implemented with a very large number of students; approximately 1270 students were enrolled in twenty-one sections during the 2015-2016 academic year. The paper will also discuss how these hardware/software experiments align with the hardware labs in one of the other common freshmen engineering courses, Engineering Foundations. Additionally, feedback from students on these labs from the end of course survey will be discussed.

Ossman, K. A., & Bucks, G. W. (2017, June), Adding Hardware Experiments to a First-Year Engineering Computing Course Paper presented at 2017 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Columbus, Ohio. 10.18260/1-2--27539

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