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Integrating a Nontraditional Hands-On Learning Component into Electrical and Electronics Courses for Mechanical Engineering Students

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2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Vancouver, BC

Publication Date

June 26, 2011

Start Date

June 26, 2011

End Date

June 29, 2011



Conference Session

Laboratory Development in ECE

Tagged Division

Electrical and Computer

Page Count


Page Numbers

22.897.1 - 22.897.8



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Paper Authors


Kathleen Meehan Virginia Tech

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Kathleen Meehan is an Associate Professor in the Bradley Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Virginia Tech. Prior to joining Virginia Tech, she worked at the University of Denver and West Virginia University as well as having worked 12 years in industry. Her research interests include optoelectronic materials and devices and high heat load packaging in addition to Electrical Engineering pedagogy.

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David Fritz VA Tech

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Integrating a nontraditional hands-on learning component into an electrical theory course for Mechanical Engineering studentsThe use of highly integrated sensor suites and control systems integrated with microprocessorsand interfaced to a computer, is fundamental to many designs. The ability to view andmanipulate digitized inputs and outputs of these systems using commercial software packages,has changed the field of mechanical engineering (ME) as well as altered the technical skills MEstudents need as they enter the workforce. Today, ME students not only have to gain anexposure to electrical and computer engineering (ECE) so that they can function onmultidisciplinary teams, they must also obtain a solid understanding of electrical and computerengineering principles so that they are able to apply these principles themselves as they workwithin their own discipline. To address this need, faculty from Departments of MechanicalEngineering and Electrical Engineering at XX initiated discussions in Spring 2009 to revise thetwo service ECE courses that are required in the ME undergraduate curriculum with the goal toincrease the depth and breadth of the theoretical and practical learning outcomes. As a result ofthese discussions, it was decided to replace the current lecture course on electrical theory with acombined lecture and laboratory course on electrical theory with an emphasis on ac circuits,which facilitates the application of theory into practice while enabling more advanced material tobe incorporated into the second course.The design of the laboratory portion in the course on electrical theory is an application of apedagogical approach that was implemented, and has proven to be highly successfully, in theundergraduate Electrical and Computer Engineering curricula – hands-on experiments that areperformed outside of a traditional classroom using a student-owned analog/digital trainer, partskit, digital multimeter, and USB oscilloscope (collectively known on campus as Lab-in-a-Box orLiaB). In addition, ME students simulate circuit operation and analyze the data collected andstored on their tablet computers using commercial software packages. The electronics course,which already had a laboratory component, was also revised to incorporate more material ondigital electronics and microprocessors into the syllabus. Furthermore, the pedagogical approachto experimentation has been extended into the electronics laboratory portion of the course.A description of the circuits and electronics experiments that have been written to focus on theneeds and interests of the ME students will be provided. The authors will discuss theorganization of the laboratory portion of the course to manage the volume of students, totalingupwards of 600 students per semester, as the ME students join the ECE majors to obtainassistance as they debug their circuits and to demonstrate their operation for a fraction of theirlab grade in an open lab environment. The fact that all ME sophomores will have their own Lab-in-a-Box, will been taught basic measurement techniques, and can perform basic circuitsimulation has led to discussions on modifications to the core courses and technical electivestaught within the Department of Mechanical Engineering. The impact that the inclusion of LiaBin the ECE service courses on the Mechanical Engineering curriculum will be described.

Meehan, K., & Fritz, D. (2011, June), Integrating a Nontraditional Hands-On Learning Component into Electrical and Electronics Courses for Mechanical Engineering Students Paper presented at 2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Vancouver, BC. 10.18260/1-2--18209

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