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Efficacy of Project-Based Instruction in a Hybridized Electronics and Controls Course

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2017 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Columbus, Ohio

Publication Date

June 24, 2017

Start Date

June 24, 2017

End Date

June 28, 2017

Conference Session

Electrical and Computer Division Technical Session 7

Tagged Division

Electrical and Computer

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Paper Authors


John Andrew Lund Western Washington University

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Dr. Lund's research involves the development of novel control systems, sensing and measurement tools for unique environments. His previous and ongoing research efforts include the development of a high-resolution wireless instrumented mouthguard for the assessment of severity of head impacts, development of an ultra-long lifespan wireless sensor devices designed to form robust data networks in remote areas lacking infrastructure, and the development of of an electron-tunneling spectroscopy based microscope control system for molecular analysis.

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We present on outcome attainment from an electronics and control systems course modified to rely heavily upon a continuing project which incorporates a diverse set of educational components for the course including control system modeling, feedback compensation, microcontroller development, digital circuit design, digital communication, and analog circuit design. Ordinarily this topic coverage would be spread over multiple courses, but was deemed necessary to meet subsequent course prerequisites. The course evaluated is a second course in a two course electrical engineering sequence for students who are not electrical engineering majors. The initial course includes introductory coverage of analog circuit analysis and digital circuit analysis and design. The follow-up course under evaluation builds upon the introductory instruction in analog and digital circuits by adding instruction on electronics, control systems, PLCs, microcontroller development, sensors and signal conditioning, and digital communication. This outcome set is intended to prepare students for future manufacturing courses involving microcontroller-based robotics and instrumentation control. However, this unorthodox course composition warrants particular attention to instructional methods and outcome attainment.

Previous iterations of course instruction included a traditional structure where weekly lecture topics paired with a related laboratory exercise, with little connection between weekly lab topics. In course evaluations, students expressed frustration that the course felt like a handful of small and disconnected topics, with little to demonstrate intersections between concepts. In response, the course was modified to focus heavily on a unified course project. The project used was a brushed DC motor controller to maintain a motor shaft position based on a sensor input. The project required students to implement an optical encoder, requiring analog and digital design, as well as signal conditioning to develop the infrared emitter and detection circuits. Students used interrupt-based microcontroller development to translate encoder signaling to motor shaft positing and angular velocity. These signals were then used, along with PID compensation, to drive an H-bridge to control the motor. Labs developed project components with each lab building off the outcome of the previous lab in a continuous 8 lab sequence.

Outcome attainment for each of the disparate course topics will be evaluated and compared to previous course outcome attainment without the inclusion of a unified course project.

Lund, J. A. (2017, June), Efficacy of Project-Based Instruction in a Hybridized Electronics and Controls Course Paper presented at 2017 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Columbus, Ohio.

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