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Incorporating Design in Electronics Laboratories

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Proceedings of the 2020 ASEE PSW Section Conference, canceled


Davis, California

Publication Date

April 30, 2020

Start Date

April 30, 2020

End Date

October 10, 2020

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Jean-michel I. Maarek University of Southern California

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Jean-Michel Maarek is professor of engineering practice and director of undergraduate affairs in the Department of Biomedical Engineering at the University of Southern California. His educational interested include engaged learning, student assessment, and innovative laboratories

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Traditional engineering laboratories provide students with detailed instructions about the procedures to follow, the parts and measurement instruments to use, and the data to collect. The data analyses and graphs to include in the laboratory reports are also prescribed to obtain results known in advance. With this approach, students learn at best how to use the measurement instruments and that experimental data match well-established theories. These traditional laboratories do not provide students with opportunities to be creative and develop original designs.

We have adopted the principles of inquiry-based learning to construct laboratories in which the students are asked to design a system to obtain measurements with a certain level of performance without giving the students the design or the procedures to follow for validating their system. The students use primary sources, including application notes, data sheets, and tutorials developed for professional engineers to develop the design. Testing and validation procedures are generated during group discussions with the instructors. The setting is a Medical Electronics course in which Biomedical Engineering students learn the principles of operation and the use of integrated analog electronic components.

The laboratories are organized in a few introductory laboratories in which students learn the use of the measurement instruments and circuit simulation software followed by 2 multi-week projects in which they design and validate an electrocardiogram amplifier with microcontroller measurement of the cardiac activity and a system in which actuation of light and sound indicators is controlled by muscle activity. The projects are divided into weekly tasks to complete. For each task, students are provided with a system block diagram often extracted from the primary sources they read as part of the background preparation. They are asked to develop a design of the circuitry that match set requirements, a simulation of the circuit operation using a circuit simulator and eventually a microcontroller program. Thus the emphasis of the effort is placed on the pre-lab activities as opposed to the traditional post-lab report. During the laboratory session, we have a short group discussion to ensure all students are on track with their design followed by assembly, testing, data collection, and validation of the design. In the post-laboratory work, students are asked to reflect on how what they learn in the laboratory could be adapted for other applications. An end-of-semester survey showed the students found the approach challenging and requiring an average of 4.5 hours of weekly preparation. They found value in the use of documentation prepared for practicing engineers and in the majority, they preferred the design-oriented laboratories to the traditional format. In addition, a large number of graduating seniors listed the Medical Electronics course as one of the most important courses of their study program. We conclude that after a period of adaptation, students appreciate the learning benefits of design-focused laboratories and of the mini-project format which enable them to design and build complex prototypes of realistic devices.

Maarek, J. I. (2020, April), Incorporating Design in Electronics Laboratories Paper presented at Proceedings of the 2020 ASEE PSW Section Conference, canceled, Davis, California.

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