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Personal Responsibility In Collaborative Lab Courses

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1998 Annual Conference


Seattle, Washington

Publication Date

June 28, 1998

Start Date

June 28, 1998

End Date

July 1, 1998



Page Count


Page Numbers

3.443.1 - 3.443.8

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Paper Authors

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Randall L. Musselman

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Session 1232

Personal Responsibility in Collaborative Lab Courses Randall L. Musselman Department of Electrical Engineering U.S. Air Force Academy, CO


While the concept has been around for some time, cooperative learning is often avoided due to the differences in students’ individual levels of responsibility. This paper relates the personal experience of one instructor experimenting with cooperative learning in a microwave- measurements lab. An overall purpose that provides continuity between weekly labs became a key ingredient to the success of this cooperative learning experiment. Student comments suggested that this experiment was indeed a success.


In spite of the global nature of senior design projects common to most engineering curricula, many electrical engineering students are plagued by compartmentalized knowledge created by a piece-meal approach to labs. These labs are usually intended to provide hands-on experience that reinforces a series of lectures. While the goal is to integrate theory with practice, these lab exercises often become isolated procedure-driven tasks.

The University of Colorado at Colorado Springs has a one credit-hour, senior-level course entitled Microwave Measurements Lab. The course goal is to provide students with proficiency in the use of standard microwave measurement techniques and instrumentation. Historically, the course consisted of a series of labs, each requiring the student to use and characterize a specific piece of equipment. One lab might consist of cable-loss measurements, the next, directional- coupler characterization, antenna-gain/pattern measurements, etc. The spirit of the course was to integrate theory with hands-on knowledge of microwave measurement techniques. However, like many such labs, each lab session seemed unnecessarily disjoint from the other. Dissatisfied with the outcome of teaching pieces of knowledge and hoping that some unifying purpose would emerge at the end of the semester, the individual lab objectives were replaced with an overall semester project that required the class to organize the details.

Simply stated, the overall goal was to measure every aspect of the transmit-receive propagation system in Figure 1, from signal generator to receiver, and to verify the Friis transmission equation for free-space propagation. This project required the students to become familiar with equipment such as the anechoic-chamber, signal generator, power meter, spectrum analyzer, etc., and to characterize devices such as antennas, directional couplers, and transmission lines. By only stating the overall semester objective, the class was allowed to take charge of the details and to identify the individual measurement tasks, which were required.

On the first day of the semester, the class was presented with the ill-defined measurement problem previously described. After some discussion, the class decided that one of the first tasks

Musselman, R. L. (1998, June), Personal Responsibility In Collaborative Lab Courses Paper presented at 1998 Annual Conference, Seattle, Washington.

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