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Redesign of Freshman Electrical Engineering Courses for Improved Motivation and Early Introduction of Design

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2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Vancouver, BC

Publication Date

June 26, 2011

Start Date

June 26, 2011

End Date

June 29, 2011



Conference Session

Recruitment, Retention, and First-Year Programs in ECE

Tagged Division

Electrical and Computer

Page Count


Page Numbers

22.1224.1 - 22.1224.13



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Paper Authors


Phillip Wong Portland State University, ECE Department

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Phillip Wong received his M.S. degree in electrical engineering from Carnegie Mellon University. He is an adjunct instructor and Lab Coordinator for the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department at Portland State University.

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Melinda Holtzman Portland State University, Electrical and Computer Engineering Department

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Melinda Holtzman received her Ph.D. from the University of Nevada, Reno. She is a Senior Instructor in the ECE department at PSU.

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Branimir Pejcinovic Portland State University, ECE Department

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Branimir Pejcinovic received his Ph.D. degree from University of Massachusetts, Amherst. He is an Associate Professor and Associate Chair for Undergraduate Education at Portland State University, Electrical and Computer Engineering department. In this role he has led department-wide changes in curriculum with emphasis on project- and lab-based instruction and learning. His research interests are in the areas of semiconductor device characterization, design and simulation, signal integrity and THz sensors. He is a member of IEEE and ASEE.

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Malgorzata Chrzanowska-Jeske Portland State University

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Malgorzata Chrzanowska-Jeske received her M.S. degree in electronics engineering from Politechnika Warszawska (the Technical University of Warsaw) in Warsaw, Poland, and a Ph.D, degree in electrical engineering from Auburn University, Auburn, Alabama, USA.

Since 1989, she is with the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Portland State University in Portland, Oregon, currently as Professor. She served as Chair of the Department from 2004 to 2010 and has overseen major changes in the curricula of the electrical engineering and computer engineering BS degrees. Her research interests include CAD for VLSI IC, MS-SOC, 3D ICs, nanotechnology and nano/bio systems, design for manufacturability, and design issues in emerging and renewable technologies. She has published more than 100 technical papers and has served as a panelist and reviewer for the National Science Foundation (NSF), and as a reviewer for National Research Council Canada (NRC) and many international journals and conferences.

She has served on the Board of Governors of IEEE Circuits and Systems Society since 2008. Recently, she received IEEE Council on Electronic Design Automation 2008 Donald O. Pederson Best Paper Award for her paper published in IEEE Transactions on Computer-Aided-Design of Integrated Circuits and Systems.

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Redesign of Freshman Electrical Engineering Courses for Improved Motivation and Early Introduction of DesignWe changed the freshman curriculum in our Electrical Engineering program to: a) provide acoherent and engaging freshman experience, b) make the very first course more appealing toundecided students, c) introduce and emphasize design, teamwork, and soft-skills developmentearly on, d) strengthen the programming components through MATLAB and C, e) providechallenging, hands-on labs and projects to increase student motivation and learning. Hence, wereplaced the traditional “Introduction to Engineering” class with the following sequence: ECE 101 Exploring Electrical Engineering is the introductory class for students interested inelectrical or computer engineering. It is a hands-on, project-based class that introduces studentsto the practice of electrical engineering in a fun, non-lecture format. The main component of theclass is a quarter-long project. Students work in teams; a written report as well as an oralpresentation and demonstration are required, and there is a competition for the best project.Students gain experience of the engineering design process and develop critical thinking,problem-solving, teamwork and communications skills. Lab activities introduce students to labequipment, techniques and software. Guest speakers discuss different fields of electricalengineering and job opportunities. Finally, there are classroom exercises on team-building,problem-solving, ethics and communication. ECE 102 Engineering Computation is the follow-on course, which explores engineeringproblem solving with a focus on circuit analysis and computation software such as MATLAB.To reinforce essential MATLAB concepts, students are required to design, code, and document aprogram for controlling a LabJack, which is an analog and digital I/O adapter. ECE 103 Engineering Programming completes the sequence by providing a formalintroduction to computer programming. To support DSP and embedded systems classes, C is thechosen language. Building on earlier MATLAB experience, the course exposes students to thesoftware development process and to more complex LabJack projects, such as multiplexed LEDdisplays and infrared communication.Novel aspects of our curriculum include: a) spending the time and effort to ease the students intothe nitty-gritty of electrical engineering through fun and illustrative lab projects, b) usingMATLAB as an introduction to C programming, c) using both MATLAB and C to control acontrol/data acquisition unit, d) putting programming to more “real” uses through exercises andprojects dealing with sensor and actuator interfacing. Assessment was done through homework,lab reports, quizzes and projects which were mapped to course outcomes. We have collected datafor all three courses, which we are currently analyzing.Our objectives for the course sequence have been met: ECE 101 provides an engaging first-year experience while introducing design and team work through a fun lab project ECE 102 provides a solid foundation in problem solving, writing, and programming with emphasis on MATLAB and simple hardware interfacing ECE 103 expands the programming, design, and teamwork components by utilizing the C language in projects that re-utilize the LabJack adapter.Initial student responses are very positive. A more formal assessment is underway and will bepresented later.

Wong, P., & Holtzman, M., & Pejcinovic, B., & Chrzanowska-Jeske, M. (2011, June), Redesign of Freshman Electrical Engineering Courses for Improved Motivation and Early Introduction of Design Paper presented at 2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Vancouver, BC. 10.18260/1-2--18541

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