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Lab-in-a-Box: Strategies to Teach Online Lab Courses While Maintaining Course Learning Objectives and Outcomes

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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

NSF Grantees' Poster Session

Tagged Topic

NSF Grantees Poster Session

Page Count


Page Numbers

23.842.1 - 23.842.8



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Paper Authors


Kathleen Meehan Virginia Tech

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Dr. Kathleen Meehan is an associate professor in the Bradley Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Virginia Tech. Her previous academic positions were at at the University of Denver and West Virginia University. Prior to moving in academia, she was employed at Lytel, Inc., Polaroid Corporation, and Biocontrol Technology. She received her B.S. in Electrical Engineering from Manhattan College and her M.S. and Ph.D. from the University of Illinois-Urbana/Champaign under the direction of Prof. Nick Holonyak, Jr. Her areas of research include design of optoelectronic materials, devices, and systems; optical spectroscopy; high heat load packaging; and electrical engineering pedagogy.

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Justin Adam Cartwright Virginia Tech

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Lab-in-a-Box: Strategies to Teach Online Lab Courses While Maintaining Course Learning Objectives and OutcomesTheDepartment of Electrical and Computer Engineering has instituted several nontraditional on-campus laboratory courses during the last decade, including the two required circuits labs in theBSEE and BSCpE curricula. The labs utilize a set of equipment known as Lab-in-a-Box, a digitalmultimeter and USB-powered oscilloscope with arbitrary function generator as well as apowered breadboard and parts kit, which allow the students to perform the labs outside of theclassroom. The experiments are designed to reinforce student learning of fundamental conceptsand demonstrate complex theorems, which are covered in a companion lecture course. Theschedule of experiments is planned so that students build upon their experiences in circuitanalysis and simulation, measurement techniques, and data interpretation. Other elements in theexperiments include evaluating the effect of component tolerances, programming in MATLAB,reading datasheets, learning debugging techniques, and working on open-ended design projects.The circuits lab courses initially included a physical lecture. The lecture was found to providenecessary student-instructor interactions to build student confidence as they conduct experimentson their own and to rapidly address computer-software-hardware conflicts that studentsencounter as they use PSpice, MATLAB, and the oscilloscope during the first circuits lab course.While a physical lecture was also incorporated into the second circuits laboratory course, amajority of students requested its elimination in course exit surveys and student evaluation ofinstruction. Acting upon this input, the second on-campus lab course has been taught as an onlinecourse with lectures and supplemental materials available as a video of voiced-over PowerPointslides for the past two years. No significant differences have been noted in exit surveys beforeand after the change in lecture format. Only 2 of the 225+ students in two years have suggestedthat physical lectures be re-instituted in exit surveys since the online lectures were instituted.It was decided to move the first circuits course to an online format while the companion labcourse was offered as an on-campus course with physical lecture for the summer 2011 semester.Due to low enrollment, only the online lecture course was taught. The format for course deliveryreturned to normal during the following academic year. In summer 2012, both the circuits lectureand lab courses were offered online. Of the 12 students enrolled in the lab course, 10 were alsoenrolled in the online lecture course, 1 student was a transfer student who had received credit fora lecture course taken at another institution, and 1 student was retaking the lab. While most ofthe experiments were similar to those assigned during the spring semester, there were somedifferences in assignments, make-up policies, and grading schemes. In addition, an automatedgrading program, tested in spring 2012 for half a semester, was used extensively during thesummer semester. More extensive instructions were developed to support the experiments withindividual concepts and practices posted separately in the online lecture modules. A graduateteaching assistant (GTA) with extensive electronics experience was assigned to support both thelaboratory and lecture course. Students demonstrated their circuits live to the GTA using videoand screen sharing functions on Skype or posted YouTube videos when internet access speedprevented real-time video conferencing. Student confidence in their likelihood of success andachievements in pre- and post-course surveys, respectively, were almost universally higher thanlevels measured in students during spring 2012. The authors speculate that this is correlated withthe personality traits required to elect to participate in the first offering of an online lab course.

Meehan, K., & Cartwright, J. A. (2013, June), Lab-in-a-Box: Strategies to Teach Online Lab Courses While Maintaining Course Learning Objectives and Outcomes Paper presented at 2013 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Atlanta, Georgia. 10.18260/1-2--19856

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