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Developments in the Teaching of Engineering Electromagnetics for Improvement in Student Interest and Understanding

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2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


New Orleans, Louisiana

Publication Date

June 26, 2016

Start Date

June 26, 2016

End Date

June 29, 2016





Conference Session

Electrical and Computer Division Poster Session

Tagged Division

Electrical and Computer

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Paper Authors


Lauren E. Donohoe Department of Electrical Engineering at The Pennsylvania State University

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Lauren Donohoe received B.S. Degrees in both Electrical Engineering and Physics from the Pennsylvania State University in 2014. She is currently a M.S. student in Electrical Engineering at the Pennsylvania State University.

During her graduate studies in electrical engineering, she researched and implemented teaching methods to stimulate interest in students. She chose to perform education and learning research in the STEM academic discipline of engineering education, specifically targeting the development of better teaching methods for engaging students in the applications of electromagnetic theory. This research has been culminated in the development of a laboratory component for the undergraduate engineering electromagnetics course at Penn State. The laboratory activities were designed to give students as many chances as possible to gain hands-on experience with real-life tools, measurement devices and analysis techniques.

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Julio Urbina The Pennsylvania State University - University Park Orcid 16x16

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JULIO V. URBINA, Ph.D is an Associate Professor in the School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at Penn State. His educational research interests include effective teaching techniques for enhancing engineering education, global engineering and international perspectives, thinking and working in multi-, inter-, and transdisciplinary ways, cyberlearning and cyber-environments, service and experiential learning, teaming and collaborative learning.

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Tim Kane The Pennsylvania State University - University Park

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TMOTHY J. KANE, Ph.D is Professor of Electrical Engineering and Meteorology at Penn State who teaches the undergraduate engineering electromagnetics course, EE 330. His educational research interests include developing course materials for enhancing engineering education, collaborative learning, and increasing student involvement.

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Sven G. Bilén P.E. The Pennsylvania State University - University Park Orcid 16x16

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SVEN G. BILÉN, Ph.D., P.E. is Professor of Engineering Design, Electrical Engineering, and Aerospace Engineering at Penn State and Head of the School of Engineering Design, Technology, and Professional Programs. His educational research interests include developing techniques for enhancing engineering design education, innovation in design, teaching technological entrepreneurship, global product design, and systems design.

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The study of electromagnetics, one of the least popular undergraduate specializations in the field of electrical engineering, focuses on the study of Maxwell’s Equations which govern how information can travel as electromagnetic waves through open air. While some sparse analogies can be drawn between electromagnetic waves in air and real waves on a string, electromagnetic theory is extremely intricate to visualize and is therefore both difficult to teach and difficult to learn.

At the (Anonymous) University, the introductory electromagnetics class for undergraduates teaches concepts such as transmission lines, static and time-varying electric and magnetic fields, antennas, and radiation through lectures and textbook problem-solving sessions. The problem is that this teaching structure lacks connection to applicable, real-world examples, a primary factor in drawing students’ interest. Without this connection, many students develop a sense that these mathematical theories are not of practical use which results in the avoidance of more advanced courses in electromagnetics. As modern wireless technology advances, individuals with a strong understanding of electromagnetics continue to become more valuable. Low undergraduate interest and high demand for the electromagnetic specialization poses a problem.

In some fields more than others, hands-on experience is a necessary part of learning. In engineering, many concepts simply cannot be fully taught in a lecture hall or out of a textbook. The aspects of teaching which cause students to retain the material they have learned – two of the most important being motivating students to learn and sparking students' interest – often pertain less to the material being taught and more to the method by which the material is presented to the students. In the long term, the plan is to create a laboratory component for this electromagnetics class in which the students will spend two hours every week complementing what they have learned in lecture and homework problems with hands-on experiments related to real-world problems.

These new labs will introduce the students to measurement devices, such as network analyzers and anechoic chambers, in combination with a technical computing language such as MATLAB as a tool to create a visual representation of complex concept, transforming the students’ understanding from mathematical theory into mathematical reality. In addition, the students will gain first-hand experience with the same equipment and software used to take measurements and perform analysis in both advanced research and industry. Institutional Review Board approved pre- and post-laboratory surveys will be used to measure changes in interest and understanding. (Measurements are being taken from August – December 2015. As a result, the results discussion will be added to the abstract at the time of the Draft Paper submission.)

Donohoe, L. E., & Urbina, J., & Kane, T., & Bilén, S. G. (2016, June), Developments in the Teaching of Engineering Electromagnetics for Improvement in Student Interest and Understanding Paper presented at 2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, New Orleans, Louisiana. 10.18260/p.26834

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