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Laboratory Exercises as an Assessment Tool in an Upper Division Electromagnetic Fields Class – Lessons Learned

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2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Indianapolis, Indiana

Publication Date

June 15, 2014

Start Date

June 15, 2014

End Date

June 18, 2014



Conference Session

Engineering Physics & Physics Division Technical Session 2

Tagged Division

Engineering Physics & Physics

Page Count


Page Numbers

24.841.1 - 24.841.7

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Paper Authors


Jeffrey A. Jalkio University of St. Thomas

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Jeff Jalkio is currently a physics professor at the University of St. Thomas. Jeff worked for thirteen years in industry in the fields of optical sensor design and process control. In 1984, he co-founded CyberOptics Corporation, where he led engineering efforts as Vice President of Research. In 1997 he returned to academia, joining the engineering faculty of the University of St. Thomas and has taught courses in electronics, digital system design, mathematics, physics, circuit theory, electromagnetics, statistical process control, computing, mechatronics, control theory, metrology and design.

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Brianna R. McIntyre University of St. Thomas

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Laboratory Exercises as an Assessment Tool in an Upper Division Electromagnetic Fields Class – Lessons LearnedAbstractAs part of a program wide effort to add computation and experimentation to all ofour upper division physics courses, a set of laboratory experiments andcomputational exercises were developed for a junior / senior level course onelectromagnetic field theory. The intent of these exercises was to broaden thestudents’ understanding of the subject matter and build upon existing linkagesbetween theoretical analysis, experimentation, and computation. However, inreality, we found that these exercises proved far more useful in identifyingconceptual misunderstandings that did not show up in other assessments. Theyeven identified surprising weaknesses in basic experimental technique.These exercises required students to first find the potential fields produced bysimple electrode geometries analytically using the techniques taught in class, thencomputationally using relaxation techniques in MATLAB and finallyexperimentally via a water tank simulation. Once they had validated theirsimulation approaches, the students were to use the computational andexperimental methods to find the potential due to a more complex geometry thatthey could not compute analytically.Three difficulties became apparent in this process. First, we learned that even whentesting indicated that students were able to solve problems and answer conceptualquestions, they might lack the ability to transfer that knowledge to a practicalproblem. Second, we found that lab skills that students learned in other classes didnot transfer to a new class. Third, students’ lacked confidence in drawingconclusions about experimental results and wrote conclusions without sufficientreflection.In this paper, we discuss the experiments and computational problems used, thedifficulties encountered by both the students and the instructor and ideas for bothimproving the exercises and addressing the issues identified.

Jalkio, J. A., & McIntyre, B. R. (2014, June), Laboratory Exercises as an Assessment Tool in an Upper Division Electromagnetic Fields Class – Lessons Learned Paper presented at 2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Indianapolis, Indiana.

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