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Curricular Enhancement To Support Project Based Learning In Computer And Electrical Engineering

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2008 Annual Conference & Exposition


Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Publication Date

June 22, 2008

Start Date

June 22, 2008

End Date

June 25, 2008



Conference Session

Project-Based Learning in ECE Education

Tagged Division

Electrical and Computer

Page Count


Page Numbers

13.346.1 - 13.346.15



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Paper Authors


Albert Liddicoat California Polytechnic State University

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Albert A. Liddicoat received his M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in Electrical Engineering and his M.S. degree in Engineering Management from Stanford University in 1996, 2002 and 1999, respectively. Dr. Liddicoat worked for IBM’s Storage Technology Division from 1990 until 2002 where he held many positions in disk drive development including: servo system test and integration, ASIC development, system electronics and architecture, program management, and business line management. Currently, he is the Forbes Associate Professor and the Director of the Computer Engineering Program at Cal Poly State University in San Luis Obispo. His research interests include computer architecture, computer arithmetic, networks, and re-configurable computing.

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Jianbiao Pan California Polytechnic State University

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James Harris California Polytechnic State University

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Lynne Slivovsky California Polytechnic State University

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

Curricular Enhancement to Support Project-Based Learning in Computer and Electrical Engineering


Undergraduate computer and electrical engineering programs often partition the curriculum into several courses based on related topics taught in isolation. Students are expected to synthesize their knowledge in a senior design project. It is the authors’ experience that students often struggle during their senior design project since they have not gained the appropriate knowledge or mastered necessary skills needed to work on a significant or team-based engineering design project. Specifically, students need to be able to define system requirements, partition the design into subcomponents, design, build, test, and verify that the system requirements have been met. The authors have enhanced and implemented three courses to develop system engineering knowledge and skills that better prepare students for their senior design experience. This paper gives an overview and lists the learning outcomes for each of these courses and includes some examples of laboratory projects that are used to meet these learning outcomes.


In the current global environment it is imperative that engineering graduates are prepared to enter the workforce with the skills necessary to make immediate contributions. Today, companies often outsource engineering tasks and projects that could otherwise be done by entry-level engineers. Globalization combined with economic pressures has increased the competition for entry level engineering jobs and therefore it is even more important to prepare our engineering graduates with all of the skills needed to be productive members of an engineering team.

The challenges associated with preparing engineering graduates for professional practice through an undergraduate curriculum based on theory and analysis is widely acknowledged.1-3 It has become clear that project-based learning with open-ended design projects facilitates self-directed learning and enhances students’ project management and communication skills. Typical projects span multiple academic terms, during which time students gain invaluable experience applying and synthesizing material from a variety of courses and disciplines. These projects, as nearly as possible, replicate the working environment that students’ will encounter after graduation. The issues encountered while working on projects are different from typical homework assignments in conventional courses. Students gain experience as part of a project team that enhances their ability to bridge into professional practice in an era that requires lifelong learning in the engineering discipline and the ability to perform as a member of a multidisciplinary team.5

From 2001 to present, our students successfully completed over 25 masters theses and 30 senior projects while conducting research and working on real-world sponsored projects in the NetPRL lab.4 The authors have had the opportunity to work with graduate and undergraduate students from computer engineering, computer science, electrical engineering, software engineering, industrial engineering and manufacturing engineering. The students contribute to research and engineering design projects; at the same time they gain industry-like work experience. Our experience with project-based learning has uncovered several important issues. First, students often have not participated on a large scale team-based design project before and

Liddicoat, A., & Pan, J., & Harris, J., & Slivovsky, L. (2008, June), Curricular Enhancement To Support Project Based Learning In Computer And Electrical Engineering Paper presented at 2008 Annual Conference & Exposition, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. 10.18260/1-2--4217

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