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Enhancing Post-Covid Student Proficiency and Confidence in Using Laboratory Test Equipment

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2022 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Minneapolis, MN

Publication Date

August 23, 2022

Start Date

June 26, 2022

End Date

June 29, 2022

Conference Session

Engineering Physics and Physics Division Technical Session 1

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Paper Authors


Paul Crilly United States Coast Guard Academy

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Paul Crilly is Department Head and Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computing at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy. He has served as a chair for the ASEE-NE Section and is an ABET PEV. His interests are in antennas and propagation, communication systems and instrumentation.

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Richard Hartnett United States Coast Guard Academy

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Dr. Richard J. Hartnett is a Professor of Electrical Engineering at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy, having retired from the USCG as a Captain in 2009. His research interests include efficient digital filtering methods, improved receiver signal processing techniques for electronic navigation systems, and autonomous vehicle design.

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Abstract – Because of the Covid-19 Pandemic during academic year 2020-2021, many of the classes and laboratories in our undergraduate Electrical Engineering (EE) program were conducted remotely, making tremendous use of videoconferencing technologies such as Microsoft Teams, and simulation engines such as National Instruments’ MultiSimTM. As we began to move back to “in person” learning for the Fall of 2021, our EE faculty observed some early weaknesses in student achievement of ABET EE student outcome #6 (an ability to develop and conduct appropriate experimentation, analyze and interpret data, and use engineering judgment to draw conclusions). We found that while students demonstrated excellent proficiency in using modern tools such as MATLABTM and MultiSimTM (which had been used extensively during remote classes), they appeared considerably weaker in making independent measurements using laboratory hardware such as oscilloscopes, dynamic signal analyzers (FFT analyzers), RF analyzers, and even commonly used voltage and current meters (which had not been used much during remote learning).

Here we highlight specific student shortcomings we observed in laboratory skills as students began their in-person lab experiences during the Fall 2021 semester. We then discuss our approaches to remedy these shortcomings during the Fall 2021 semester to improve student confidence and proficiency in the use of laboratory instrumentation. We also highlight the improvements we saw in achievement of ABET student outcomes. While computer simulation has its place in undergraduate education, practical testing and measurement of electronic systems does require physical measurement and interaction using modern test equipment, and we identified some areas for timely improvement. Our focus in this paper is on improved student performance in using laboratory test equipment in Linear Circuits and Antennas courses. In the Linear Circuits course, students use the Oscilloscope and Dynamic Signal Analyzer to identify the characteristics of several op-amps and circuits (e.g, op-amp open-loop frequency response, gain-bandwidth product, slew rate, output impedance, closed-loop frequency response of an inverting amplifier), and in the in the Antennas course students use the RF analyzer to characterize the behavior of RF circuits, transmission lines and antennas.

We show how our increased emphasis on lab skills for the Fall 2021 semester, coupled with unique assessment tools, significantly improved achievement of student outcome #6. More specifically we share the successes we experienced in using oral individual quizzes during lab meetings, group classroom quizzes, individual student observation of setup and measurement, and adding questions related to lab skills and experiences on hourly examinations.

Crilly, P., & Hartnett, R. (2022, August), Enhancing Post-Covid Student Proficiency and Confidence in Using Laboratory Test Equipment Paper presented at 2022 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Minneapolis, MN. 10.18260/1-2--40767

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