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Towards a T Shaped Electrical and Computer Engineering Curriculum: a Vertical and Horizontally Integrated Laboratory/Lecture Approach

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2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Seattle, Washington

Publication Date

June 14, 2015

Start Date

June 14, 2015

End Date

June 17, 2015





Conference Session

Best Paper Presentations

Tagged Division

Division Experimentation & Lab-Oriented Studies

Page Count


Page Numbers

26.1591.1 - 26.1591.13



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Paper Authors


Harry Courtney Powell University of Virginia

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Harry Powell is an Associate Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering in the Charles L. Brown Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the University of Virginia. After receiving a Bachelor's Degree in Electrical Engineering in1978 he was an active research and design engineer, focusing on automation, embedded systems, remote control, and electronic/mechanical co-design techniques, holding 16 patents in these areas. Returning to academia, he earned a Ph.D. in Electrical and Computer Engineering in 2011 at the University of Virginia. His current research interests include machine learning, embedded systems, electrical power systems, and engineering education.

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Ronald D. Williams P.E. University of Virginia

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Ronald Williams is a faculty member in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the University of Virginia. His teaching responsibilities have typically been in the area of digital systems, embedded computing, and computer design. He has recently been actively involved in the redesign of the undergraduate electrical engineering curriculum. His research interests have focused on embedded computing for control and signal processing.

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Robert M. Weikle II University of Virginia

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Robert M. Weikle, II received a B.S. degree in electrical engineering and physics from Rice University, Houston, Tex., in 1986 and M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in electrical engineering from the California Institute of Technology in 1987 and 1992, respectively. In 1993, he joined the faculty of the University of Virginia where he is currently a Professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. His research group focuses on submillimeter electronics, terahertz devices, high-frequency instrumentation and metrology, and quasi-optical techniques for millimeter-wave power combining and imaging.

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Maite Brandt-Pearce University of Virginia

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Maite Brandt-Pearce is a professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the University of Virginia. She received her Ph.D. from Rice University in 1993. Her research interests include nonlinear effects in fiber-optics, free-space optical communications, optical networks subject to physical layer degradations, and biomedical and radar signal processing. She has over 150 major publications.

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Towards a T Shaped Electrical and Computer Engineering Curriculum: a Vertical and Horizontally Integrated Laboratory/Lecture ApproachWe believe that in order to educate “T-Shaped” engineers, a “T-Shaped” curriculum is required.A typical Electrical and Computer Engineering curriculum, presents the introductory material ina sequence of courses. In many cases these are sequenced as Circuits, Electronics, and Signalsand Systems. While a curriculum structured in this fashion covers the basic material, studentretention of key concepts may not be optimal. Signals and Systems courses frequently do nothave a laboratory component, leading students to think of them as simply a mathematics coursewith little practical use. Also, students tend to see Electronics with its associated non-linearcomponents and heavy use of models as a big hurdle when presented as a follow-on to the linearcircuit concepts normally presented in the first course of the sequence. This perceiveddisassociation between courses does not promote a breadth of understanding of the material.Furthermore, although the first two courses in a typical sequence have an associated laboratorycomponent, the material in the laboratory may not correspond directly to the concepts presentedin lectures; lecture material is likely to be “stale” in the student’s mind by the time theirparticular laboratory session actually meets.To address these limitations, inherent in a conventional curriculum, we are implementing a majorpedagogical restructuring of our core coursework. We have introduced a 3 course sequence thatreplaces the conventional one. This sequence eliminates compartmentalization of material, andindeed is simply referred to as Fundamentals, 1 through 3. We achieve horizontal integration byhaving each course include material from all 3 of our earlier conventional courses, with eachcourse in the new sequence reiterating some material from the previous one. For example, ourFundamentals 1 course includes some basic circuit analysis techniques, but doing so within thecontext of how these techniques are extended to encompass analysis of electronic componentssuch as MOSFETs and diodes. We also explore how to use frequency domain concepts todescribe the signals that students are working with. We achieve vertical integration byprogressively deepening the level of understanding at which the material is presented;Fundamentals 2 and 3 still contains circuit and electronic materials as well as the varioustransforms associated with signals and systems, but at a far deeper level of detail than inFundamentals 1.Laboratory experiments are an integral part of our curricula, and each course meeting consists ofboth lecture and laboratory, interleaved with each other and in the same classroom. The lecturesare presented in compact segments that encompass a single concept. Students then perform ashort experiment that illustrates that concept before moving to the next section of the lecture; allmaterial is thus presented both as a theoretical concept and simultaneously as a laboratoryexperiment. In addition each course includes a project in which the students design and assemblea printed circuit board, further cementing the relation between analysis, synthesis, and practice..

Powell, H. C., & Williams, R. D., & Weikle, R. M., & Brandt-Pearce, M. (2015, June), Towards a T Shaped Electrical and Computer Engineering Curriculum: a Vertical and Horizontally Integrated Laboratory/Lecture Approach Paper presented at 2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Seattle, Washington. 10.18260/p.24927

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