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TESSAL: Portable Distributed Laboratories in the ECE Curriculum

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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

NSF Grantees Poster Session

Tagged Topic

NSF Grantees

Page Count


Page Numbers

22.1422.1 - 22.1422.13



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Paper Authors


Bonnie Ferri Georgia Tech

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Bonnie Ferri received a B.S. from Electrical Engineering from Notre Dame in 1981, a M.S. in Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering from Princeton in 1984, and a Ph.D. in Electrical
Engineering from Georgia Tech in 1988. She is currently a Professor and Associate Chair for Graduate Affairs in ECE at Georgia Tech. Her research has been in the areas of embedded control systems, applications of control, control of computing systems, and education. She is the recipient of the 2007 IEEE Education Society Harriet B. Rigas Award.

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JillL L. Auerbach Georgia Institute of Technology

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Jill Auerbach is a Senior Academic Professional in the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Georgia Institute of Technology. As the Coordinator of Assessment and Student Retention in the School, she is responsible for accreditation and program review requirements and assessment of several special academic programs. In addition, Jill directs programs that promote student retention and success, especially among underrepresented, female and transfer student cohort groups. Her educational background is in the fields of Policy Analysis and Public Administration, with emphasis on research methodology.

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Jennifer E. Michaels Georgia Institute of Technology

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Jennifer E. Michaels received the B.E.E. degree from the Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech), Atlanta, Georgia, in 1976, and the M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in theoretical and applied mechanics from Cornell University, Ithaca, New York, in 1982 and 1984, respectively. She worked as an engineer with the Hanford Engineering Development Laboratory in Richland, Washington, from 1977 to 1980. She was co-founder and vice president of JTM Systems and Consulting, Inc., Ithaca, New York, from 1980 to 1988, working primarily on the development, fabrication and commissioning of custom automated ultrasonic inspection systems. She continued this work from 1988 until 2002 as Manager of Systems Development at Panametrics, Inc., in Waltham, Massachusetts. In 2002 she joined the faculty of the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Georgia Tech where she is an Associate Professor and co-director of the QUEST (Quantitative Ultrasonic Evaluation, Sensing and Testing) Laboratory. Prof. Michaels is a senior member of the IEEE, a member of the Acoustical Society of America and the American Society of Nondestructive Testing, and an Associate Editor of the IEEE Transactions on Instrumentation and Measurement. Her research interests include signal processing, wave propagation, pattern recognition, detection and estimation, data fusion, and automated measurement systems, primarily relating to ultrasonic structural health monitoring and nondestructive evaluation.

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Douglas B. Williams Georgia Institute of Technology

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Douglas B.Williams received the BSEE, M.S., and Ph.D. degrees in electrical and computer engineering from Rice University, Houston, Texas. In 1989, he joined the faculty of the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta, Georgia, where he is currently Professor and Associate Chair for Undergraduate Affairs. There he is also affiliated with the Center for Signal and Image Processing ( and the Teaching Enhancement via Small-Scale Affordable Labs Center (

Dr. Williams has served as an Associate Editor of the IEEE Transactions on Signal Processing and the EURASIP Journal of Applied Signal Processing. He is currently on the IEEE Signal Processing Society's Education Technical Committee, and he has been a member of the Society's Board of Governors and Signal Processing Theory and Methods Technical Committee. Dr. Williams was co-editor of the Digital Signal Processing Handbook published by CRC Press and IEEE Press. He is a member of the Tau Beta Pi, Eta Kappa Nu, and Phi Beta Kappa honor societies.

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A Program for Distributed Laboratories in the ECE CurriculumThis paper describes an NSF CCLI project that seeks to improve undergraduate learning bydeveloping a cohesive program where experiments are introduced into a wide selection ofElectrical and Computer Engineering (ECE) lecture-based courses. Since these courses currentlydo not have labs associated with them, these experiments add a hands-on active learningcomponent to the courses. Most of the experiments are low cost and portable, which facilitates adecentralized laboratory environment where students perform the experiments at their homes orin the classroom while at their desks, rather than in dedicated laboratories. The labs developedas part of this project include ones for digital logic, signals and systems, control systems, powergeneration, random processes, and electromagnetics.Each lab module includes the portable experimental platform as well as web support consistingof a tutorial on the fundamental theoretical concepts being demonstrated, a video introduction tothe lab objectives and procedures, a lab procedure document, information for instructors, and aset of on-line test problems representative of those found in lecture-based courses. The goal ofthe website is to tie the experiment to the lecture material as well as to provide support forstudents and instructors. Student support is aimed at tying the experimental material closely tothe fundamental concepts taught in lectures and at streamlining the experimental procedures sothat there is not a large learning curve. The instructor support materials are built to encourage atarget group, those faculty who normally teach lecture courses rather than labs, to adopt theexperiments by making it simple to use and easy to incorporate into classes.The full paper will include a list of best practices for building and using distributed labs as wellas preliminary results of assessment studies. Assessment methodologies used are pre- and post-surveys, exam performance, and concept inventories. Results indicate that the experimentsincrease student interest in the subject, increase their perceived competency, and improve theirknowledge. An example of post-survey data is shown in the table for two instructors who wereteaching a particular course to control groups and to experimental groups in the same semester.The control groups reported significantly worse understanding of the topic than did theexperimental groups. Over 1200 students have participated in the project at a large publicuniversity with plans underway to export the experiments to another smaller program in the2010-2011 school year.Table: Survey conducted at the end of semester Instructor A Fall 2008 Instructor BLevel of understanding of Control Experimental Control Experimentalprotoboards/breadboards compared to Group Group Group Groupother material covered in ECE 2030 n=35 n=21 n=21 n=22up to this point?About the same as most other topics 20% 38.1% 14.3% 27.3%Better understanding than most 5.7 % 14.3% 19.0% 41%Not as good of an understanding as 74.3 % 47.6% 66.7% 31.9 %other topics

Ferri, B., & Auerbach, J. L., & Michaels, J. E., & Williams, D. B. (2011, June), TESSAL: Portable Distributed Laboratories in the ECE Curriculum Paper presented at 2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Vancouver, BC. 10.18260/1-2--19001

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