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Getting More Learning From Labs - Six Principles to Build Understanding and Skill

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2013 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Atlanta, Georgia

Publication Date

June 23, 2013

Start Date

June 23, 2013

End Date

June 26, 2013



Conference Session

Outstanding Contributions to Student Learning through Laboratory Experiences

Tagged Division

Division Experimentation & Lab-Oriented Studies

Page Count


Page Numbers

23.639.1 - 23.639.17



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Paper Authors

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Clark Hochgraf Rochester Institute of Technology (CAST)


Richard Cliver Rochester Institute of Technology (CAST)

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Richard C. Cliver is an Associate Professor in the department of Electrical, Computer and Telecommunications Engineering Technology at RIT where he teaches a wide variety of courses both analog and digital, from the freshman to senior level. He was the recipient of the 1998 Adjunct Excellence in Teaching Award, the recipient of the 2002 Provost’s Excellence in Teaching Award and a finalist in the 2009 Eisenhart Excellence in Teaching Award. In addition, he works part-time for Eastman Kodak as a Senior Design Engineer and is a TAC of ABET commissioner.

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David S Martins Rochester Institute of Technology

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David S. Martins is Associate Professor and director of the University Writing Program at Rochester Institute of Technology. His article on the use of scoring rubrics won the Best Article of the Year 2008 in Teaching English in the Two Year College, and his articles have appeared in Communication Studies, the Journal of Medical Humanities, and in edited collections. He works with faculty across the curriculum to integrate writing into their design of high quality learning environments.

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Getting More Learning From Labs - An Integrated Approach Using a Final Project to Create the Context For Learning Combined with Scaffolded Labs to Build Understanding and SkillThis paper describes the evolution in pedagogy of an undergraduate senior level Digital SignalProcessing laboratory course. Pedagogy changes were driven by the desire to increase students’engagement in lecture material and understanding of fundamental concepts. An overriding goalwas to provide students confidence in their ability to build a working Digital Signal Processingsystem that runs in realtime.An existing course provided a traditional set of exercises exploring various DSP concepts, suchDSP hardware, FIR and IIR filters, sampling, and FFTs. However the labs appeared to thestudents as isolated bits of knowledge. Students did not view the labs as building skills but ratheras isolated illustrations of the lecture concepts. Students did not engage in understanding thedetails of labs, how they worked or why they didn’t work. The course lacked a motivatingcontext where the students would need to apply these DSP techniques beyond answering examquestions or making lab measurements and reports.The redesigned course focuses on a final project where the students must build a workingbiomedical monitoring device using pre-defined hardware. Each of the labs leading up to thefinal project is carefully scaffolded to build elemental pieces of the final project. These elementalpieces include both exposure to concepts from the lecture and deeper understanding of how theyare implemented in hardware.However, elegantly arranging the labs to support the final project goals is not enough. Thestudents must know about this linkage and it must be clearly, consistently, and repeatedlycommunicated throughout the course. As students began to realize how each previous lab is animportant part of the final project puzzle, students’ quality of work and attention to taskimproves significantly. Student satisfaction and engagement outcomes were assessed by a surveyat the end of the course.Lab reports were changed to highlight the linkages to the final project. Traditional reports werereplaced by incremental reports where the students produce a few high quality figures to be usedin the final report. Each week the students write a few paragraphs in response to “write to learn”questions about their figures and about the code they wrote or data they collected. This practicerequires students to think critically about whether the results they obtained make sense.Even if the student doesn’t fully understand the material at this stage of their learning, the resultsof the earlier labs are brought back into focus later and placed in a broader context at the end ofthe course through the final project report. In this way, students can revisit earlier course topicsand see them in a new light, giving them a chance to clear up misconceptions or fill in gaps inunderstanding.A key aspect of the lab redesign was to give students complete ownership and responsibility foracquiring the skills to be able to build their own working DSP system. The students knew theywould have to explain, both verbally and in a formal journal paper report, how the system theybuilt worked.

Hochgraf, C., & Cliver, R., & Martins, D. S. (2013, June), Getting More Learning From Labs - Six Principles to Build Understanding and Skill Paper presented at 2013 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Atlanta, Georgia. 10.18260/1-2--19653

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