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Board # 47 : On Student Collaboration and Competition in an Inquiry-based Multi-user Communications and Jamming Exercise

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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

Electrical and Computer Division Poster Session

Tagged Division

Electrical and Computer

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Paper Authors


Kirsten R. Basinet Western Washington University Orcid 16x16

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Kirsten R. Basinet is pursuing a master's degree in computer science at Western Washington University, where she graduated in 2016 with a B.S. in electrical engineering. She is passionate about communications systems, broadcast technologies, STEM education, accessibility, and sustainable engineering.

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Andrew G. Klein Western Washington University Orcid 16x16

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Andrew G. Klein joined Western Washington University (WWU) in 2014 and is currently an associate professor with a joint appointment to the department of Engineering and Design (Electrical Engineering Program) and the graduate faculty of Computer Science. He received the B.S. degree in electrical engineering from Cornell University, and the M.S. degree in electrical engineering and computer sciences from the University of California, Berkeley. He then worked for awhile at several Silicon Valley startup companies before returning to Cornell to pursue a Ph.D. in electrical and computer engineering in 2006. Prior to his arrival at WWU, he worked as a postdoctoral researcher at Supélec/LSS near Paris, France, and was an assistant professor at Worcester Polytechnic Institute.

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Richard Martin The Air Force Institute of Technology

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Richard K. Martin received dual B.S. degrees (summa cum laude) in physics and electrical engineering from the University of Maryland, College Park, in 1999 and the M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in electrical engineering from Cornell University, Ithaca, NY, in 2001 and 2004, respectively. Since August 2004, he has been with the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, Air Force Institute of Technology (AFIT), Dayton, OH, where he is a Professor. He is the author of 35 journal papers and 68 conference papers, and he holds five patents. His research interests include radio tomographic imaging; navigation and source localization; electronic warfare; and laser radar. Dr. Martin has won seven teaching awards including the Air Force wide award for Outstanding Science and Engineering Educator. He has served as a Senior Area Editor and an Associate Editor for IEEE Signal Processing Letters and as a Guest Editor for The IEEE Journal of Selected Topics in Signal Processing.

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With the recent popularity of the active learning paradigm, educators are increasingly interested in how collaborative and competitive group activities facilitate learning and motivation. In the case of engineering, the use of these techniques in a laboratory environment has not been studied in detail. As part of an inquiry-based multiuser communications and jamming exercise, we attempt to study the impact of collaboration and competition on a group of senior-level electrical engineering students.

In this lab activity, students are tasked with creating a wireless, acoustic digital transceiver using MATLAB and off-the-shelf components. Multiple student groups are given a single shared speaker which serves as a transmitter, broadcasting the summation of all groups' signals. In addition, each group is provided a microphone, which acts as a receiver and allows each group to decode the unique information intended for them.

The first part of the lab is intended to model the downlink in a cellular basestation, wherein teams of students are encouraged to work together to make the system as efficient as possible with a design goal of maximizing the minimum rate. Collaboration is incentivized by a grading scheme that rewards the entire class an increasing amount of points as the error-free minimum rate increases. In the second part of the lab, teams compete with one another, and points are assigned based on which team achieves the highest individual data rate, subject to a peak power constraint. Student teams are encouraged to create robust receivers through software improvements, and are told that they may interfere with their classmates’ transmissions by sending a malicious signal. In both parts of the lab, students are not provided with an explicit list of procedures to follow, but are instead prompted to experiment and investigate the best solution on their own.

Survey results suggest this open-ended, hands-on approach is an effective teaching and learning technique for understanding multiuser communications systems. The results also show that while introducing collaboration and competition generally had a positive effect on students’ learning experiences, this method introduces complexities and may have a negative impact on certain individuals who feel demotivated or pressured to do more work than others as a result. Additionally, students widely reported that the collaborative portion of the exercise was preferable, indicating that competition may not motivate students as much as intended. Survey data is analyzed, and a discussion of possible extensions of the approach are included.

Basinet, K. R., & Klein, A. G., & Martin, R. (2017, June), Board # 47 : On Student Collaboration and Competition in an Inquiry-based Multi-user Communications and Jamming Exercise Paper presented at 2017 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Columbus, Ohio.

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