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Considerations for software-defined radio use within a project-based learning subject

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2023 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Baltimore , Maryland

Publication Date

June 25, 2023

Start Date

June 25, 2023

End Date

June 28, 2023

Conference Session

Power Engineering & Curriculum Innovations

Tagged Division

Electrical and Computer Engineering Division (ECE)

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Paper Authors


Glenn J Bradford University of Melbourne

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Glenn Bradford is a Teaching Fellow in the Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering at the University of Melbourne. His main focus is creating innovative curriculum that incorporates practical, hands-on experiences to better drive student learning.
From 2015 to 2020, he worked as a 5G Wireless Systems Engineer at Intel Corporation developing advanced 5G wireless prototypes and systems exploring the convergence of 5G wireless with emerging immersive media applications. Prior to Intel, he worked on the implementation of software-radio based cellular products as a Senior Software Engineer at Motorola Solutions, Inc.
He received his Ph.D. in electrical engineering from the University of Notre Dame in 2014.

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Gavin Buskes The University of Melbourne Orcid 16x16

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Gavin is an Associate Professor and Deputy Head (Academic) in the Department of Electrical and Electrical Engineering at the University of Melbourne, Australia. He teaches a wide range of engineering subjects and has research interests in optimal control, idea generation, prior knowledge and developing professional skills. He also holds the role of Assistant Dean (Teaching and Learning) in the Faculty of Engineering and Information Technology.

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Paul N Beuchat The University of Melbourne

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Paul N. Beuchat received the B.Eng. degree in mechanical engineering and the B.Sc. degree in physics from the University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Australia, in 2008, and the M.Sc. degree in robotics, systems, and control in 2014 and the Ph.D. degree in 2019, from ETH Zürich, Zürich, Switzerland, where he completed his research with the Automatic Control Laboratory. He is currently working as a Teaching Fellow with the University of Melbourne. Paul’s research interests include control and optimization of large-scale systems with applications in the areas of building control and multi-agent robotics, as well as research investigating project-based learning pedagogies for teaching highly technical concepts.

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In this paper we reflect on the use of software-defined radio (SDR) within a project-based learning (PBL) subject at the master’s level that incorporates a semester-long wireless communication design project. PBL as a pedagogy is an important tool for addressing disparities existing between the capabilities with which engineering students graduate and those demanded by employers. Ideally, it enables ‘dual impact’ activities in which both technical and professional skills can be developed concurrently. For the teaching of wireless communication systems, SDR has been the key enabling technology for a wider adoption of PBL pedagogies. SDR’s use of programmable software frameworks and general-purpose hardware lowers the barrier-to-entry for students to model, implement, debug, and verify real-world communication systems. As with any example of PBL, when using SDR to meet intended learning goals it is important to give due consideration to key subject design characteristics such as project complexity and open-endedness.

The subject reported in this paper exists as an opportunity for students to integrate prior knowledge from overlapping areas in communication systems, signal processing, and embedded systems. As is common in the literature, for the design project we chose a spectrum challenge in which students optimize the performance of a secondary communication link while limiting interference to a primary user with priority spectrum access. We first give an overview of the pedagogical subject design, the chosen design project, and the software and hardware platforms employed. Drawing upon instructor observations and student self-reflections, we report on the positive outcomes and limitations inherent in the subject’s design, highlighting important considerations when employing PBL to develop student capabilities in wireless communications. Among such considerations are a project’s suitability for addressing theoretical and conceptual topics, the time required for students to upskill on SDR software and hardware tools, and the need to ensure students apply sufficient engineering rigor in their analysis and design of project solutions.

Bradford, G. J., & Buskes, G., & Beuchat, P. N. (2023, June), Considerations for software-defined radio use within a project-based learning subject Paper presented at 2023 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Baltimore , Maryland. 10.18260/1-2--43157

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