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The Lab And The Web: Transforming The Sophomore Experience

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1996 Annual Conference


Washington, District of Columbia

Publication Date

June 23, 1996

Start Date

June 23, 1996

End Date

June 26, 1996



Page Count


Page Numbers

1.465.1 - 1.465.11

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Paper Authors

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W. M. Waite

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Rommel Simpson

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

I ---- Session 2632

The Lab and the Web: Transforming the Sophomore Experience

W. M. Waite, R. Simpson University of Colorado at Boulder/Eastgate Systems

ABSTRACT: In the fall of 1995 we initiated a major revision of our sophomore course on computer architecture and assembly language in order to increase student involvement and provide more design experience. Its new title is “Computers as Components”, and it uses embedded systems to motivate the necessary skill acquisition. This paper discusses the structure and support of this course, and our experience with teaching it.

1. Background

Falling enrollments and problems with retention of sophomores prompted us to examine our curriculum in 1992. We interviewed students, looked at initiatives at other schools, consulted with industry representatives, and debated strategy and tactics internally. Our conclusion was that we needed to improve the students’ laboratory experience and integrate it more closely with lecture material. In that way, we felt that we could provide stronger motivation for the lecture material and also reinforce it through immediate application.

There has been a trend at the University of Colorado towards a separation of lectures from laboratories. A number of arguments have been put forth in favor of this separation, probably the most understandable being that of scheduling flexibility. Unfortunately, this separation leads to a psychological distance in the minds of both the faculty and the students. Even when a lecture and a laboratory are co-requisites, they are distinct. Since scheduling flexibility is an important consideration, different faculty members will usually be responsible for them. They are graded separately, and there is little incentive or opportunity to try to integrate the material closely. Thus much of the benefit of presenting the same material in different ways, exercising different learning styles, is lost.

We believed that this trend needed to be reversed, so we postulated a set of core courses that would integrate lecture, recitation and laboratory. Most of the courses were already in place and required, but were offered as separate lectures and laboratories. The existing lectures carried three credit hours and the existing laboratories carried one, so in order to accommodate a recitation we had to increase the total number of credit hours per course to five. Because of the inflexibility of the University’s scheduling program, we were forced to offer these courses as though they consisted of three one-hour lecture sessions and two two-hour laboratory sessions per week. This turned out to be a blessing in disguise, because it allows considerable flexibility in how we use laboratory sessions.

In addition to converting to the new format, the digital faculty took this opportunity to re-order our two offerings at the sophomore level. All freshmen in the College of Engineering take (or place out of) an elementary programming course. Prior to the fall semester of 1995, sophomores in electrical engineering, computer engineering, and computer science then took a course in logic circuits followed by a course in assembly language programming. Our experience was that virtually none of the material from logic circuits was ever used in the subsequent course, and that there was very little motivation for the students to learn it.

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Waite, W. M., & Simpson, R. (1996, June), The Lab And The Web: Transforming The Sophomore Experience Paper presented at 1996 Annual Conference, Washington, District of Columbia.

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