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Experiential Learning Of Complex Engineered Systems In The Context Of Wireless Sensor Networks

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2010 Annual Conference & Exposition


Louisville, Kentucky

Publication Date

June 20, 2010

Start Date

June 20, 2010

End Date

June 23, 2010



Conference Session

NSF Grantees Poster Session

Page Count


Page Numbers

15.557.1 - 15.557.10



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Paper Authors

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Paul Flikkema Northern Arizona University

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Jeff Frolik University of Vermont

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Carol Haden Magnolia Consulting

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Tom Weller University of South Florida

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Experiential Learning of Complex Engineered Systems in the Context of Wireless Sensor Networks

Abstract There is a strong need for the reform of engineering education in order to prepare students for one of the great challenges of this century: to understand highly complex problems ranging from health care to geoengineering and to synthesize the necessarily complex-engineered solutions for them. A multi-university NSF-sponsored collaboration has implemented a modular, web- enhanced course that aims to develop the systems-thinking skills necessary to tackle these problems in the specific context of the engineering of environmental wireless sensor networks (WSNs). As part of this effort, we have developed and are currently testing hands-on experiments that introduce students to the range of engineering skills that are the foundation of WSN engineering. These experiments are based on two platforms: (1) a development board that can be used with a plug-in microcontroller/radio module to prototype simple WSN nodes and (2) a powerful circuit- and system-level simulator. The development board, which we call CLIO, facilitates team-based student projects that can integrate sensors, embedded computing, energy management and wireless communications. The CLIO hardware and software package includes the development board along with experiments that build upon each other. Experiments based on the simulator are complementary, allowing students to explore circuit- and systems-level wireless design parameters and the links between them. This paper describes the capabilities and suggested use for the development board, associated simulation projects, and supporting course material. We also present assessment results based on surveys and focus groups, conducted at two universities in Fall 2009. Two additional universities will be implementing the course with these experiments in Spring 2010. All hardware and software tools and extensive documentation, along with video-based course content, are available through the project website ( The CLIO boards are being distributed for beta testing at several universities; wider dissemination is being supported by the IEEE Microwave Theory and Techniques Society. Introduction This century’s problems—energy production and climate change, declining civil infrastructure, plummeting biodiversity, and uncertain supplies of potable water and food, to name a few—pose unprecedented scientific and technological challenges. There is growing recognition that if these problems are to be tackled successfully, innovative approaches are needed to educate engineers with new and different skill sets and attitudes. The challenge to engineering educators is at least two-fold, since we are facing the greatest global need for technological innovation since perhaps World War II at the same time that apathy about technology, and lack of interest in technological careers, has been increasing in developed nations. We are in the third year of a project called MUSE (Multi-University Systems Education) to develop a new approach to engineering education that addresses these problems head-on. First, we emphasize systems thinking [1,2,3,4,5], a set of skills rarely taught in undergraduate engineering curricula, and only learned sporadically and informally in graduate school or industry. Systems thinking centers around the ability to conceive and design complex engineered systems—the very systems that will be needed to solve the problems we face. These

Flikkema, P., & Frolik, J., & Haden, C., & Weller, T. (2010, June), Experiential Learning Of Complex Engineered Systems In The Context Of Wireless Sensor Networks Paper presented at 2010 Annual Conference & Exposition, Louisville, Kentucky. 10.18260/1-2--15913

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