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Tablets For Timely Design Documentation

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2008 Annual Conference & Exposition


Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Publication Date

June 22, 2008

Start Date

June 22, 2008

End Date

June 25, 2008



Conference Session

New Trends in ECE Education II

Tagged Division

Electrical and Computer

Page Count


Page Numbers

13.1136.1 - 13.1136.12



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Paper Authors


David Meyer Purdue University

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David G. Meyer has been very active in curriculum development, learning outcome assessment, design education, and use of instructional technology. He is currently responsible for creating, maintaining, and teaching the core ECE digital systems course sequence. He has written numerous papers on innovative uses of technology in education; more recent research contributions include papers on learning outcome assessment in both lower-division “content” courses and in senior-level capstone design courses.

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Mark Johnson Purdue University School of ECE


Cordelia Brown Purdue University

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Cordelia M. Brown is a Visiting Assistant Professor in Electrical and Computer Engineering. She received her Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering at Vanderbilt University, her M.S. in Electrical Engineering at Vanderbilt
University, and her B.S. in Electrical Engineering at Tuskegee University.
Her research interests include assessment of instructional methods, laboratory design, collaborative learning, mentoring, professionaldevelopment skills, and retention and recruitment issues in engineering education.

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

Tablets for Timely Design Documentation Abstract

One of the biggest challenges we have experienced in supervising digital systems senior design projects is the quality and completeness of the individual lab notebooks. Of the five outcomes we continuously track for this capstone course, the lab notebooks have consistently received the lowest quantitative scores. A significant improvement was achieved three years ago when we transitioned from “carbon paper and pen” notebooks to on-line (HTML) notebooks. Many teams took advantage of (and put to good use) the ability to post digital pictures of prototyping setups, provide hyperlinks to all their device datasheets, post their latest schematics and software listings for evaluation, and post video clips of their project in action (as verification of their project success criteria). The primary drawback has been the need for students to be in front of a networked computer to make lab notebook entries; consequently, the notebook updates still tended to be done in “spurts” (typically “after the fact”) rather than in “real time”. Project work (and inspiration), in fact, does not always occur in a lab setting, where networked computers are readily available, nor does it occur when all team members are working in the same physical location. Our hypothesis is that equipping each project team with wireless Tablet PCs should not only significantly improve the spontaneity (and regularity) with which the on-line lab notebooks are updated, but also facilitate collaboration among team members working on the design project at different locations. An HP Technology for Teaching Grant has provided a critical mass of Tablet PCs to test this hypothesis. A description of how the equipment provided is being utilized, along with a discussion of the preliminary results obtained, is presented in this paper.


In most team-oriented capstone design courses, creation and maintenance of individual laboratory notebooks (or design journals) is an important key to successful project completion. Unfortunately, this very necessary ingredient of successful engineering design is also the one for which it is most difficult to garner enthusiasm among students. Typically, students would rather “just work on the project” than document the process; consequently, procrastination sets in and the engineering design process utilized is often documented well after the fact (days, even weeks), if at all. This dilemma is documented in the following self-evaluation, written by the author six years ago.

Individual lab notebooks varied greatly in quality – some of them were simply “narratives” of group meetings, while others appeared to be transcribed “after the fact”. We attempted to address these issues by evaluating each student’s lab notebook tear-out sheets several times throughout the semester (on a total of four different occasions). While this rather significant effort on the our part lead to notable improvements in the lab notebooks relative to previous offerings, there is still room for improvement especially for team members charged with software development, who generally kept the “worst” notebooks. The fundamental problem appears to be getting students to: (a) appreciate the value of a good lab notebook, and (b) take it seriously.1

Meyer, D., & Johnson, M., & Brown, C. (2008, June), Tablets For Timely Design Documentation Paper presented at 2008 Annual Conference & Exposition, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. 10.18260/1-2--3759

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