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Re Engaging Engineering Students In Hands On Education

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2006 Annual Conference & Exposition


Chicago, Illinois

Publication Date

June 18, 2006

Start Date

June 18, 2006

End Date

June 21, 2006



Conference Session

ECE Pedagogy and Assessment

Tagged Division

Electrical and Computer

Page Count


Page Numbers

11.1062.1 - 11.1062.12



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Paper Authors

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Jason Coutermarsh Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

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Kenneth Connor Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

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Don Millard Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

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

Re-Engaging Engineering Students in Hands-On Education


This paper presents the technologies and implementation activities that are under development to re-engage students in “hands-on”, in and out of class exploration, experimentation and design to aid students’ understanding of the “big ideas” in electrical engineering. It describes (while the presentation will demonstrate) the Mobile Laboratory hardware and software (developed by Rensselaer) which, when connected to the PC via a USB port, provides similar functionality to an oscilloscope (with a full 50KHz bandwidth), 2 function generators, a multimeter and bipolar power supplies (for less than the cost of a typical textbook – approximately $80). With the advent of this mobile instrumentation studio PC-based laboratory, many instrumentation-based course offerings can now be held in normal classrooms rather than in specially outfitted facilities. In addition, students are asked to perform hands-on experiments outside of the classroom anywhere/anytime, thus facilitating new opportunities for them to “tinker,” to gain valuable insight through practical experience and to rekindle the passion for solving problems – potentially attracting/retaining a significantly larger fraction of the best students.


Today’s students are computer-savvy, exhibit a diminished attention span1, and have tremendous demands upon their time. Research has shown that humans only retain approximately 20% of what they hear someone else tell them; yet retain as much as 90% of what they learn by doing.2 Mobile studios with Tablet-based Laboratory equipment setups (TabLabs) can be set-up and removed in minutes, allowing for greater efficiencies in space utilization, scheduling (over a period of 24 hours/day), maintenance & support, enhanced student-teacher involvement and ultimately, improved student learning through engagement in hands-on activities.

Today’s engineering students are typically running multiple applications while simultaneously using internet browsers, instant messaging and search engines on their computers. This results in competition for the user’s attention and impedes the ability to focus – with the notable exception of the engrossment involved with a computer game. Consequently, the shortened attention spans, lowered tolerance for repetition, and dependence on computers seriously challenges educators to provide information in more dynamic, compelling, thorough, and interactive ways.3

As electronic designs have become increasingly complex, today’s products require engineers with advanced skills and greater intuition in science, math, engineering and technology than prior generations exhibited.4 Shortened attention spans hinder students from staying engaged and focused in technical classrooms, resulting in poorer performance and diminished interest in pursuing technical careers.5 Notwithstanding the

Coutermarsh, J., & Connor, K., & Millard, D. (2006, June), Re Engaging Engineering Students In Hands On Education Paper presented at 2006 Annual Conference & Exposition, Chicago, Illinois. 10.18260/1-2--1115

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