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Lab-in-a-Box: Techniques and Technologies to Manage Large and Not So Large Laboratory Courses

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2012 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


San Antonio, Texas

Publication Date

June 10, 2012

Start Date

June 10, 2012

End Date

June 13, 2012



Conference Session

NSF Grantees' Poster Session

Tagged Topic

NSF Grantees Poster Session

Page Count


Page Numbers

25.875.1 - 25.875.8



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Paper Authors

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Justeen Olinger

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Michael Hutton

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Christopher Gretsch Covington


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. She joined Virginia Tech in 2002 after having taught at the University of Denver (1997-1999) and West Virginia University (1999-2002). Her areas of research include optoelectronic materials and devices, optical spectroscopy, packaging for power electronic applications, and electrical engineering pedagogy.

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Richard Lee Clark Jr. Virginia Western Community College

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Branden McKagen Virginia Tech

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John Harris Virginia Tech

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Lab-in-a-Box: Techniques and Technologies to Manage Large and Not soLarge Laboratory CoursesA project known as Lab-in-a-Box (LiaB) was developed in 2004 by faculty members in the XElectrical and Computer Engineering (ECE) Department to improve student learning by allowingstudents to make their own observations on concrete examples of fundamental concepts inelectrical engineering. LiaB is a set of ‘hands-on’ exercises in which students design, build, andtest at home circuits using an inexpensive electronics kit, digital multimeter, and a USBoscilloscope and, thus, does not require the same resources as a traditional experimental lab classto implement. The d.c. and a.c. circuits LiaB-based courses were introduced into the X BSEEand BSCpE curricula six years ago. In 2009, the circuits and electronics courses taken by ourmechanical engineering undergraduate students were revised to include LiaB experimentsinstead of the traditional classroom laboratory component. This has allowed the ECE departmentto reconfigure some of its laboratory classrooms into open space for senior design projects andextracurricular design competitions. More recently, the mechanical engineering faculty membershave begun to use the LiaB kit in their senior technical elective on Mechatronics and to prototypeelectronic circuits in several ME senior design projects. The inclusion of LiaB in the ECE andME curriculum has received very positive comments from students and faculty members as wellas from parents and visitors to the ECE and ME departments. Overall, the project has been quitesuccessful within our institution and has generated significant interest outside of it. Thepedagogical approach with some modifications has been adopted by Y in 2007 and two othercommunity colleges within Z. We expect that the list of schools incorporating this pedagogicalapproach will expand as W and several 2- and 4-year institutions of higher learning outside ofthe state are considering adopting the LiaB kit and the instructional methodology.Several enhancements to improve student learning were developed over the years with supportobtained from a National Science Foundation Curriculum, and Laboratory Improvement Phase IIgrant, awarded in 2008. These include institution of laboratory lectures, which are deliveredface-to-face in the first laboratory course and are online in the second course; the creation ofreport templates; generation of supplemental learning materials for each experiment, which areposted on the course Scholar site; and development of multimedia tutorials on measurementtechniques, PSpice simulations, and calculations using MATLAB, which are posted online andare embedded as hotlinks in appropriate report templates. However, several issues pertaining tocourse management have persisted since the inception of LiaB. Two trends in higher educationhave aggravated the situation. First, reductions in state funding experienced by our institutionsover the past decade has resulted in a decrease in available resources to support these courses, aswell as the other courses in the departments. Secondly, the increasing undergraduate enrollmentin engineering has meant that we are teaching significantly more students with considerably lessresources. We have developed several strategies and implemented certain technologies tocontinue to deliver the same level of instruction, require the same level of effort – and learning –by the students while reducing the workload on the course graders, graduate teaching assistants,and instructors. A summary of the course management issues that are shared between X and Y aswell as the ones that are specific to each institution will be described. Software to assist with thecourse management has been written in-house using Visual Basic, MATLAB, and bash script.These and other tools, such as Cameyo, and techniques will be discussed. The improvements incourse management observed when these tools were adopted at X and Y will be detailed.

Olinger, J., & Hutton, M., & Covington, C. G., & Meehan, K., & Clark, R. L., & McKagen, B., & Harris, J. (2012, June), Lab-in-a-Box: Techniques and Technologies to Manage Large and Not So Large Laboratory Courses Paper presented at 2012 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, San Antonio, Texas. 10.18260/1-2--21632

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