June 24, 2017
June 24, 2017
June 28, 2017
Division Experimentation & Lab-Oriented Studies
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.
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