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Developing Critical Thinking Skills in a Mixed-Signal Test and Product Engineering Course

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2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Indianapolis, Indiana

Publication Date

June 15, 2014

Start Date

June 15, 2014

End Date

June 18, 2014



Conference Session

NSF Grantees’ Poster Session

Tagged Division

Division Experimentation & Lab-Oriented Studies

Tagged Topic

NSF Grantees Poster Session

Page Count


Page Numbers

24.396.1 - 24.396.10



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Paper Authors


Tina Hudson Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology

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Tina Hudson is an Associate Professor at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology. She received her Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering from Georgia Institute of Technology in 2000. She teaches in the areas of analog and digital circuits and systems, analog and mixed-signal integrated circuit design and testing, and MEMS. Her education research interests include the development of critical thinking skills and intuition in undergraduate students and course development based on learning theory.

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Shannon M. Sipes Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology

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Shannon M. Sipes has served as the Director of Assessment at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology since 2004. She is a unique resource for faculty with her background in social science and education combined with experience applying it to STEM fields. Shannon holds B.S. and M.A. degrees in psychology and is currently finishing her Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction with a focus on higher education. In her current professional role, Shannon performs assessment functions at all levels from small classroom projects through assessment at the institute level. Additionally, she spends a substantial portion of her time collaborating with faculty on educational research projects and grant funded projects requiring an assessment component. Her own research interests are in inquiry methodology, gifted students, and curriculum design.

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Developing Critical Thinking Skills in a Mixed-Signal Test and Product Engineering CourseThere is an outcry from technological employers for students with strong critical thinking skills.According to the National Council for Excellence in Critical Thinking, critical thinking skillsencompass many of the higher levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy, including comprehension,application, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation. Finding ways to improve these skills is anobjective widely sought after in higher education; however, obtaining this goal is often elusive.Our entering student population exhibits a wide variety of ability in these areas, and many highereducation courses fail to bring them to a new level. The authors have developed a course, Mixed-Signal Test and Product Engineering, which has demonstrated a significant shift in criticalthinking skills among the students.Test Engineering is a sector of the integrated-circuit industry where engineers validate thatfabrication variation did not compromise the quality of integrated-circuit performance. The testengineers write programs to automatically control test equipment to accurately and quickly testcomplex integrated circuit designs. Mixed-signal products combine highly efficient digitalcomputation with analog circuits required to interact with the “real-world.” In this course,students learn how test engineers validate mixed-signal products, blending material from manycore courses, including analog circuits, digital circuits, signal analysis, feedback control,programming skills, statistical analysis, and data analysis. Students are expected to integrate theirexperiences from their core courses and apply those skills to this real-world application.There are many opportunities to teach critical thinking skills in the mixed-signal test and productengineering course. First, in their homework assignments and laboratory experiences, studentsare exposed to many different products with different specifications and test considerations dueto different architectures. Throughout the quarter, they are expected to apply their knowledge tothese new products (application). Additionally, they receive the test considerations from thedatasheet, which often requires students to integrate multiple specifications together to infer theintended test conditions (synthesis). Second, in their laboratory exercises, students are expectedto write code that drives an automatic tester to test multiple products. In these laboratoryexercises, they are expected to analyze their data to ensure that it is accurate and repeatable(analysis). Problems in their data can arise from many sources, including noise, transients,hardware failures or limitations, test equipment failures or limitations, product failures, orprogram failures. In every lab, students are expected to propose reasons for their data failures(analysis and synthesis) and discover alternative test conditions that will isolate the data failureand thereby validate or invalidate their hypothesis (synthesis and evaluation).Improvements in critical thinking skills were evaluated using the Critical Thinking AssessmentTest (CAT) developed by Tennessee Tech. Students took this valid and reliable test in pre-test /post-test form, demonstrating a shift in their pre- to post- mean score that was 95% of the overallstandard deviation. This suggests that the entire group shifted their scores, rather than just acouple of students adjusting the mean. A student focus group indicated that students felt that thecourse most improved their critical thinking skills in the same areas that demonstrated thehighest gains on the CAT test.

Hudson, T., & Sipes, S. M. (2014, June), Developing Critical Thinking Skills in a Mixed-Signal Test and Product Engineering Course Paper presented at 2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Indianapolis, Indiana. 10.18260/1-2--20287

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