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Project-Based Learning of Optics and Photonics: How to Teach a Stand-Alone Technical Elective "Niche" Course?

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2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Tampa, Florida

Publication Date

June 15, 2019

Start Date

June 15, 2019

End Date

June 19, 2019

Conference Session

Course Transformation in ECE

Tagged Division

Electrical and Computer

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Paper Authors


Renee M. Clark University of Pittsburgh

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Renee M. Clark is a research assistant professor of Industrial Engineering and Director of Assessment in the Swanson School of Engineering and the Engineering Education Research Center (EERC). She received her MS in Mechanical Engineering from Case Western and her PhD in Industrial Engineering from the University of Pittsburgh while working for Delphi Automotive. Her research interests focus on the propagation and assessment of active and experiential learning in engineering education.

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Mohan Wang University of Pittsburgh


Mohamed A. S. Zaghloul University of Pittsburgh

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Mohamed A. S. Zaghloul was born in Cairo, Egypt, in 1987. He received his B.E. degree in Electronics and Electrical Communications Engineering in 2009, and his M.Sc. degree in Engineering Physics in 2012, both from the Faculty of Engineering at Cairo University. In 2014, he joined the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at University of Pittsburgh, as a graduate research and teaching fellow, since then he has been working under professor Kevin P. Chen towards a Ph.D. in developing optical fiber sensors for monitoring harsh environments. Zaghloul is a recipient of multiple research and teaching awards, and since 2016 he has been appointed to the Postgraduate Research Program at the National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL) administered through Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE).

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Spencer Mark Sullivan

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Kevin Chen

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At the typical engineering school, lasers and optics is an elective “niche” area, often with a standalone senior course offering. This course is generally taken by students in their final years when they are ready to graduate and start their careers or graduate school. For the vast majority of engineering students with limited prior exposure to optics, the teaching efficacy of a stand-alone optics course is hindered by the theoretical depth of the optics theory and the technical breadth of photonics technology. This paper explores a hybrid teaching approach involving reduced lecture content with the addition of inductive-style project-based-learning (PBL) to teach optics and photonics, which can be disseminated to university and college engineering programs that are not specialized in optics and photonics technology. Using widely available computer software tools (i.e., MATLAB and EAGLE CAD) and low-cost, commercially-available off-the-shelf optoelectronic components, students practiced and studied the wave and particle natures of light through PBL, including in an active fashion during class. This also enabled them to make direct connections to the skills they had acquired from other engineering courses and build technical skills they could use for their senior design projects, upcoming innovation-based careers, or graduate studies. To assess this approach, students were interviewed to obtain their perspectives on the re-designed course and its impact on their learning, development, and engagement. Ten of the 15 students interviewed said the MATLAB simulation project has helped them understand the relevant science more than the paper homework did. The students in general felt the course has helped professionally via the simulation and circuit design projects and their exposure to the associated software tools. Eleven of 15 students said they were more engaged during the class sessions with active learning versus lecture. This paper will describe the projects used and various affective assessment results. The paper will also describe plans to formally connect this course to student makerspace use and senior design projects to further integrate optics and photonics into the electrical engineering curriculum.

Clark, R. M., & Wang, M., & Zaghloul, M. A. S., & Sullivan, S. M., & Chen, K. (2019, June), Project-Based Learning of Optics and Photonics: How to Teach a Stand-Alone Technical Elective "Niche" Course? Paper presented at 2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Tampa, Florida. 10.18260/1-2--33207

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