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Anchoring student interest in electrical engineering experimental learning

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Middle Atlantic ASEE Section Spring 2021 Conference



Publication Date

April 9, 2021

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April 9, 2021

End Date

April 10, 2021

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Albert Lozano-Nieto Pennsylvania State University, Wilkes-Barre Campus

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Albert Lozano-Nieto is Professor of Engineering at the Wilkes-Barre campus of Penn State University. He is the program coordinator for its Electrical Engineering Technology degree. Dr. Lozano's research interests are focused on the use of bioelectrical impedance to measure physiological parameters and the improvement of education in electrical engineering.

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The traditional approach to the laboratory component in the first electrical engineering (EE) or electrical engineering technology (EET) course has been based on students learning the use of basic electronic instrumentation, mainly a DMM and an Oscilloscope. Through his experience of more than 25 years teaching EET, the author has recognized how difficult it is for students in these courses to be fully engaged during the whole term. In these laboratory experiences, students are typically required to do some calculations following the concepts from lectures, and then compare them to the results of simulations and direct measurements on a simple circuit. While this approach gives students the basic skills to use electronic instrumentation, the experimental work is, by design, self-contained without challenging students to concepts beyond those described in those modules.

To combat these limitations, the author has developed a set of l laboratory exercises that engage students in their first laboratory course. They serve, in the author’s opinion, to continue anchoring the interest of the students in electrical engineering. These new exercises should not be understood as replacing the traditional work focused on developing appropriate and professional skills in the use of electronic instrumentation but to complement them. To this extent, both traditional and new experiments are interlaced through the term and thus exposing students to both approaches. This paper describes the experiments specific experiments the author has developed to cement student interest in electronics. By design, these experiments which are focused on electronic systems instead of electronic circuits, may leave students with several questions about the processes that take place during the experiment. These questions are used by the instructor to provide a roadmap of the future courses in their program of study which will be focused on these specific areas.

Examples of these types of experiment include reading the codes generated by the remote control of a TV set or a remote car opener. These two simple objects, ubiquitous in our lives, serve to introduce the students to the concepts of optoelectronics, microcontrollers, radio frequency and software defined radio among others. Once again, it is important to stress that at this level, the goal of the experiments is for the students to interact with these systems, fully acknowledging that they will not understand what is happening. However, they keep the students wanting more. In other cases, such as measuring the basic power transfer characteristics of solar cells outdoors, students experience first-hand the challenges of working in an uncontrolled environment as even the lightest clouds cause their measurements to fluctuate.

Given the relatively low enrollment in the author’s EET program, students were able to continue performing these experiments in person during the global COVID pandemic in Fall 2020 with minimal changes, such as universal masking, maintaining physical distance among them and working alone instead of groups. Further details of the experiments along with feedback, and student self-assessment will be included in the full paper.

Lozano-Nieto, A. (2021, April), Anchoring student interest in electrical engineering experimental learning Paper presented at Middle Atlantic ASEE Section Spring 2021 Conference, Virtual . 10.18260/1-2--36284

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