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Hands On Circuit Design And Test Laboratory For Distance Learning In Electrical Engineering

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2004 Annual Conference


Salt Lake City, Utah

Publication Date

June 20, 2004

Start Date

June 20, 2004

End Date

June 23, 2004



Conference Session

Virtual and Distance Experimentation

Page Count


Page Numbers

9.654.1 - 9.654.13

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Paper Authors

author page

Mani Soma

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Session 2426

Hands-on Circuit Design and Test Laboratory for Distance Learning in Electrical Engineering

Mani Soma, Bee Ngo, Jessica Yan, Richard Christie, and Eve Riskin

University of Washington, Seattle


This paper describes the design of the Pandora box, a low-cost laboratory instrumentation that includes a power supply, a signal generator, and a two-channel oscilloscope. In distance-learning environments, the Pandora box, together with a student’s personal computer at home, permits a full range of design and test of hardware circuits in the sophomore and junior Electrical Engineering curriculum. Preliminary students’ feedback indicates enthusiastic response to this first offering of at-home hands-on experimental laboratory.

1. Introduction and problem statement

Distance learning in engineering is not a new subject, with numerous courses being offered in areas such as computer programming, engineering mathematics, web designs, databases, etc. These courses use either a student’s home computer or a network to permit remote access to computer resources on site1. Outside the computer-related curriculum, however, the promise of a full 4-year or even 2-year degree via distance learning in a field such as Electrical Engineering has not been achieved due to the lack of a laboratory for students to use to design and test real hardware circuits. Students who live in proximity of the main campus can drive in to use the on- campus laboratory facilities, and students who already have jobs in industry may rely on their companies’ instrumentation laboratory to design and test circuits in courses covering introductory circuit analysis, linear systems, basic digital logic design, introductory analog circuit analysis and design. Other students simply have no means to perform hands-on circuit design and test experiments. Some institutions offer “remote design and test” experience to students using the world-wide web2, but this experience is by no means equivalent to the hands- on experience required of engineering graduates. Operating a piece of equipment remotely is better than nothing, but clicking on a computer screen is not regarded by anybody as real hands- on design and test experience. Circuits do not always work; in fact, students learn more when circuits fail and they have to debug them. Different students make different mistakes in building circuits or designing new circuits, and the diagnosis skills cannot be taught using a central circuit board built by somebody at the main campus. Many aspects of circuit analysis and design have to be taught using real circuit and real equipment: few engineers ever forget the acrid smell or the burning heat of a circuit component the first time they exceeded the operating limit of a

“Proceedings of the 2004 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition Copyright © 2004, American Society for Engineering Education”

Soma, M. (2004, June), Hands On Circuit Design And Test Laboratory For Distance Learning In Electrical Engineering Paper presented at 2004 Annual Conference, Salt Lake City, Utah.

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