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Creating a Climate of Increased Motivation and Persistence for Electrical and Computer Engineering Students: A Project-Based Learning Approach to Integrated Labs

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2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Tampa, Florida

Publication Date

June 15, 2019

Start Date

June 15, 2019

End Date

October 19, 2019

Conference Session

New Developments in ECE

Tagged Division

Electrical and Computer

Tagged Topic


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Paper Authors


Arthur Ball Virginia Tech

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Arthur Ball received his M.S. (2004) and Ph.D. (2009) degrees in electrical engineering from the Center for Power Electronics Systems at Virginia Tech, Blacksburg VA. After spending nine years in the aerospace electronics industry, he returned to Virginia Tech in 2015 as an instructor in the electrical and computer engineering department. In addition to finding ways of teaching highly-technical theory in an approachable manner, he has been involved in restructuring courses to include more hands-on skills and practical design knowledge that is sought after in industry.

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Liesl M. Baum Virginia Tech

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Dr. Liesl Baum is the Associate Director for Strategic Initiatives at the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning. She is a former middle school teacher and spent seven years teaching in Virginia public schools. Her research interests and goals are to develop a frame of mind that allows for creativity to develop among students and faculty of all levels. She works with university faculty to identify and build teaching strategies that encourage creativity for learning. Her research and work interests remain across the full realm of education and preparing educators to design and develop teaching and learning opportunities that encourage students to take risks, inquire across multiple disciplines, and participate in grand challenges. Liesl received her B.S. in Middle Education and M.S. in Educational Technology, both from Radford University. She received her doctorate in instructional design and technology from Virginia Tech.

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Lisa D. McNair Virginia Tech

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Lisa D. McNair is a Professor of Engineering Education at Virginia Tech, where she also serves as Director of the Center for Research in SEAD Education at the Institute for Creativity, Arts, and Technology (ICAT). Her research interests include interdisciplinary collaboration, design education, communication studies, identity theory and reflective practice. Projects supported by the National Science Foundation include exploring disciplines as cultures, liberatory maker spaces, and a RED grant to increase pathways in ECE for the professional formation of engineers.

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This work in progress studies the impact on students and faculty brought on by integrating project-based labs with lectures on student learning, and perceived value, in a sophomore-level electrical and computer engineering course. Historically, engineering courses have created a division between the theoretical lecture and the applied lab, preventing students from making clear connections between the two. Today’s students do not find this legacy approach effective. We are redesigning the sophomore year experience in a large electrical and computer engineering program in order to enhance student learning and concept retention. An example from one instructor teaching a sophomore-level course exploring the full integration of labs will be demonstrated. This integration will be achieved through a problem-based learning approach, incorporating industry-level, real-world problems. The questions we seek to address are:

How does integration of problem-based lab and lecture contribute to student perception of value, motivation and success? How does integration of problem-based lab and lecture contribute to instructor’s perception of value and motivation to modernize instruction?

In this paper we will discuss the historical approach to the design of the course, using departmental data on course and program design from the early 1980s, the time of the last curriculum overhaul. In addition, using the MUSIC Model of Academic Motivation together with course data (grades, drop rates, etc.), we will present baseline data from current students and instructors in regards to perceived value as well as overall performance. Then we will describe the iterations of course design to integrate project-based labs with lecture materials, and using the MUSIC Model and course data from instructors and students in the revised course, report on perceived value and performance so we may compare the before and after.

As another source of data, our teaching and learning center will conduct a mid-term feedback assessment. This set of qualitative data will be used to influence the trajectory of the course and further integration of the labs. We expect that the integration of project-based labs will increase student learning. In addition, we anticipate the results will reveal that having students participate in industry-level, real-world scenarios contributes to increased authenticity students assign to the course content. This research will prepare us to broadly make recommendations to other electrical and computer engineering instructors, as well as department administration, as the efforts to modernize the student experience continue. And finally, this research will provide insight into alternative instructional methods for preparing future engineers, informing the broader field of engineering education.

Ball, A., & Baum, L. M., & McNair, L. D. (2019, June), Creating a Climate of Increased Motivation and Persistence for Electrical and Computer Engineering Students: A Project-Based Learning Approach to Integrated Labs Paper presented at 2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Tampa, Florida. 10.18260/1-2--32555

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