June 14, 2009
June 14, 2009
June 17, 2009
14.828.1 - 14.828.8
Lab-in-a-Box: Development of Materials to Support Independent Experimentation on Concepts from Circuits
A project known as Lab-in-a-Box (LiaB) was developed in 2004 as one of the outcomes of a department- level reform within the Bradley Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE) at Virginia Tech, addressing a need that was identified through student and employer surveys for concrete examples of fundamental concepts in electrical engineering. LiaB is a set of ‘hands-on’ exercises in which students design, build, and test at home various d.c. and a.c. circuits using an inexpensive electronics kit, digital multimeter, and a software oscilloscope and, thus, has not require significant resources to implement. The inclusion of LiaB in our ECE curriculum has received overwhelmingly positive comments from the students as well as from faculty members who have used the kits for projects in upper division courses that have been traditionally lecture-based with no lab component and has been adopted by three community colleges. The aim of the first set of experiments that are under development, funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation, is to reinforce abstract concepts on first-order and second- order RLC circuits introduced in the companion circuits lecture course. The students construct circuits with physical components rather than symbolic parts in PSpice and determine the time-varying voltage drops and currents in the circuit by direct measurement rather than by plugging values into their calculators. Experiments enable students to explore how the component tolerances, the initial state of the capacitor and/or inductor, and the frequency response of the circuit affects the output signal. An approach to integrate evaluation and assessment is being undertaken, where methods to measure the educational outcomes are considered concurrently with the development of the learning materials. A description of our pedagogical approach to the development of these learning materials and the integration of evaluation and assessment metrics will be described.
During the past several years, members of the Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE) faculty at Virginia Tech at have been concerned about declining enrollments in both the Electrical and the Computer Engineering programs. Of particular concern was the declining enrollment of women in our programs. Analysis of our enrollment data showed that the percentage of women undergraduates in our ECE department was under the national average for the two degree programs – 12% in the electrical engineering (EE) program and 6% in the computer engineering (CpE) program. The ECE averages were also significantly less than the percentage of women that matriculated into the College of Engineering as freshmen engineering majors (20%). Surprisingly, we also found that a significant portion of the women, underrepresented minorities, and nontraditional students in the department arrive as transfer students, usually from one of the community colleges in the Virginia Community College System (VCCS).
From these studies, it became clear that a part of the problem arose because our EE and CpE curricula were very mathematically oriented and thus aligned more to analytical thinking with little experimental coursework, which made learning the material in the two degree programs difficult for those who are visual learners. An additional factor that was handicapping our visual learners was the fact that a number of informal learning opportunities outside of academia had vanished. It was noted that far fewer of our incoming sophomores had direct experience in any aspect of electrical engineering that was common in past decades. While our students made extensive daily use of a number of complex electronic devices, they had no experience in dealing with electronics from an experimental point of view as interest in ham radio has waned, sales of home electronic kits are negligible, and the motivation to disassemble and reassemble computers has been reduced because of the general availability of plug-and-play accessories,
Meehan, K., & Hendricks, R., & Doolittle, P., & Clark, R., & Shek, C. (2009, June), Lab In A Box: The Development Of Materials To Support Independent Experimentation On Concepts From Circuits Paper presented at 2009 Annual Conference & Exposition, Austin, Texas. https://peer.asee.org/4737
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