June 23, 2013
June 23, 2013
June 26, 2013
Electrical and Computer
23.576.1 - 23.576.16
Exploiting a Disruptive Technology to Actively Engage Students in the Learning ProcessAs graduates of ECE programs continue to produce ever more powerful technology at ever lowerprices, a few of the remarkable products they create have the potential to totally change the waywe deliver education to the bright young people who wish to follow in their footsteps. Thecapabilities of electronics powered and controlled by PCs through their USB ports are now suchthat it is possible to provide our students with a very low cost, fully portable electronicslaboratory that they can use in both formal and informal educational settings, anywhere andanytime. These mobile, hands-on learning tools are the latest example of the kind of disruptiveengineering educational technology that appears once every decade or so. Examples from thepast include calculators (late 1960s), Spice 1 (1973), PCs (1980s), and microcontrollers (mid-1990s). The adoption of each of these technologies has had profound impacts on instruction inengineering, although most have taken years to be incorporated universally in ECE curricula.While there are always enthusiastic early adopters, general use has been slow to establish due tofaculty reluctance, little institutional support and few substantive incentives. In addition, therehave been many new ideas and tools that never worked out. In academia, we therefore face achallenge to recognize winning technology early so that when it does take off commercially, weare not left behind with obsolete curricula and the justifiable industry criticism that follows.Inexpensive USB-powered electronic instrumentation offers an easier path to adoption and thus,educators are already proactively using these tools to dramatically transform engineeringeducation. The availability of electronic instrumentation that is cheaper than a textbook iscoupled with (a) inquiry-based learning in primary and secondary education, (b) rapid growth ofonline education, (c) development of world-wide user communities in academia and industry andof high-tech hobbyists. In one stroke, the availability of USB-powered instruments has redefinedthe concept of student-centric hands-on learning. Students can now own their personal laboratorystations; they are no longer bound by the constraints of fixed space, equipment and schedules toconduct experiments. Faculty members also have much greater flexibility to map out the desiredpractical experience they wish to provide their students.The paper outlines the experience of four universities with support of two companies to exploitthis technology in ECE curricula and electronics-rich courses from other programs. Assessmentof hands-on pedagogy shows that the approach has very positive impact on the depth ofunderstanding of complex concepts. Student surveys indicate strong and sustained interest inmaterial learned experimentally. Effects are particularly profound in the early years of auniversity program and for underrepresented and minority students or those who have had afractured educational experience. In addition to its impact on student learning in ECE, hands-onlearning has been applied to the instruction of non-ECE students to address the strategicchallenges of STEM recruitment, retention in engineering disciplines and building awareness oftechnology in the general population.
Robertson, J. M., & Meehan, K., & Bowman, R. J., & Connor, K. A., & Mercer, D. A. (2013, June), Exploiting a Disruptive Technology to Actively Engage Students in the Learning Process Paper presented at 2013 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Atlanta, Georgia. https://peer.asee.org/19590
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