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Teaching Signals And Systems Through Portfolios, Writing, And Independent Learning

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2001 Annual Conference


Albuquerque, New Mexico

Publication Date

June 24, 2001

Start Date

June 24, 2001

End Date

June 27, 2001



Page Count


Page Numbers

6.956.1 - 6.956.8



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Paper Authors

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Nicholas Arcolano

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Richard Vaz

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

Session 2632

Teaching Signals and Systems through Portfolios, Writing, and Independent Learning Richard Vaz, Nicholas Arcolano WPI

I. Introduction

This paper describes an integrated approach to outcome-driven instruction and assessment of a continuous-time signal and system analysis course at the sophomore level. A set of seven course outcomes was established: four relating to traditional topics in frequency domain analysis of signals and systems, and three relating to broader educational outcomes, including effective communication, reflection on learning achievement, and learning independently. These seven outcomes were then used to structure the course, and to provide a focused basis for assessment of learning and continuous improvement.

A significant component of the course involved independent student project work; each student completed three projects, each of which involved learning advanced topics not discussed in class. Each project also involved substantive use of Matlab and Simulink software, which the students were also expected to learn independently. Finally, each project culminated in a writing assignment in which the students were challenged to consider what they had learned, how new material fit into their previous knowledge base, and how this learning process related to their own personal learning styles. Taken together, these three projects formed a course portfolio for the students to discuss with their academic advisors after completion of the course.

In order to help students learn to convey technical concepts and ideas effectively, all course homework assignments and exams also featured essay-type questions. Some of these questions challenged students to explain technical concepts in their own words; others were focused more on reflection of learning, as in the project assignments. Rubrics for evaluation of the writing were used so that the results would be both consistent and also be directly aligned with the course educational outcomes. In-class "minute papers" were used as a tool to help students practice writing, to solicit immediate feedback regarding student comprehension, and to encourage students to think critically about their learning during the course.

Elements of the projects, homework assignments, and exams were associated with the course outcomes, and student learning was evaluated using rubrics designed for each outcome and was validated by another faculty member. The results of this assessment were then used, along with student evaluation data, to formulate specific improvements for future offerings. They also provided a rich source of data for assessment of some of the more challenging criteria of ABET EC2000: the ability to communicate effectively, and the ability to engage in lifelong learning.

“Proceedings of the 2001 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition Copyright  2001, American Society for Engineering Education”

Arcolano, N., & Vaz, R. (2001, June), Teaching Signals And Systems Through Portfolios, Writing, And Independent Learning Paper presented at 2001 Annual Conference, Albuquerque, New Mexico. 10.18260/1-2--9876

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