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Communication Systems Laboratory Projects Featuring Interactive Simulation And Visualization

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2009 Annual Conference & Exposition


Austin, Texas

Publication Date

June 14, 2009

Start Date

June 14, 2009

End Date

June 17, 2009



Conference Session

Project-Based Learning in ECE Education

Tagged Division

Electrical and Computer

Page Count


Page Numbers

14.341.1 - 14.341.15



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Paper Authors


Ed Doering Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology

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Edward Doering received his Ph.D. in electrical engineering from Iowa State University in 1992, and has been a member the ECE faculty at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology since 1994. He teaches courses in digital systems, circuits, image processing, and electronic music synthesis, and his research interests include technology-enabled education, image processing, and FPGA-based signal processing.

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Sam Shearman National Instruments

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Sam Shearman is a Senior Product Manager for Signal Processing and Communications at National Instruments (Austin, TX). Working for the firm since 2000, he has served in roles involving product management and R&D related to signal processing, communications, and measurement. Prior to working with NI, he worked as a technical trade press editor and as a research engineer. As a trade press editor for Personal Engineering & Instrumentation News, he covered PC-based test and analysis markets. His research engineering work involved embedding microstructures in high-volume plastic coatings for non-imaging optics applications. He received a BS (1993) in electrical engineering from the Georgia Institute of Technology (Atlanta, GA).

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Communication Systems Laboratory Projects Featuring Interactive Simulation and Visualization


Engineering communication systems courses rely heavily on mathematical descriptions that can be difficult for students to quickly grasp. Hands-on laboratory projects and interactive simulation are two well-established methods to help students develop an intuitive understanding of a knowledge domain. Constructing a tangible physical system helps students connect the mathematically-expressed concepts to something real. Moreover, building an interactive simulation fosters intuition, provided the simulation itself can be constructed quickly and efficiently.

We have developed a set of laboratory projects that leverage the unique interactive visualization and simulation capabilities of the LabVIEW graphical dataflow programming environment. With LabVIEW, students quickly transform mathematical models, algorithms, and block diagrams into real-time systems whose dynamics can be experienced visually and aurally with an interactive graphical user interface. The laboratory projects guide students as they assemble working simulations and interact with the finished result. Each project presents required background theory as a mini-lecture embodied by a combination of text, diagrams, and streaming video screencasts, detailed specifications for subsystems to be built supported by video screencasts of relevant LabVIEW coding techniques, and suggested experiments to study and interact with the finished system. Hosted on the Connexions web-based open publishing resource, the projects are openly available and suitable as a turn-key solution for faculty who wish to enhance an existing communication systems course with little effort. What’s more, the modularity of the project materials and availability of Connexions editing tools enable faculty to modify and extend the projects.

Project topics cover fundamental concepts such as bit error rate (BER) vs. Eb/No performance measure, coherent detection, baseband modulation, inter-symbol interference (ISI) and eye diagrams, and block coding. More advanced projects explore bandpass modulation schemes using the computer soundcard and speaker-air-microphone (SAM) channel; students visualize the signals as they pass through each subsystem and listen to the modulated waveforms, and quickly develop an appreciation for interrelationships between carrier frequency, channel bandwidth, bit rate, and noise level. Practical projects such as text messaging over the SAM channel and Caller ID signal decoding motivate student interest to further study of communication systems.


Communication systems constitute an important part of all electrical engineering curricula. Introductory communication systems courses rely heavily on mathematical exposition to convey concepts, and traditional textbooks likewise feature mathematical derivations and proofs to explain fundamental concepts. The importance of a mathematical framework cannot be denied,

Doering, E., & Shearman, S. (2009, June), Communication Systems Laboratory Projects Featuring Interactive Simulation And Visualization Paper presented at 2009 Annual Conference & Exposition, Austin, Texas. 10.18260/1-2--5240

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