Sponsors

Partners

Industry supporters

Project scope

Approaches

Project goals

Evaluation

** Evaluation web site

Dissemination

Materials

Schedule

Deliverables

Reports

Awards, Gifts, etc.

UW participating units

 

Meeting record

 

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A hands-on laboratory-driven Electrical Engineering 2-year curriculum for distance and at-home learning

Lead institution:

University of Washington, Seattle, WA

Project Co-Directors:

Mani Soma and Eve Riskin

Department of Electrical Engineering

Sponsor

Fund for the Improvement of Post-Secondary Education (FIPSE), US Department of Education.

Partners

Industry supporters

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Project scope

This project seeks to address the needs for skilled workers in electrical and computer engineering, the two disciplines central to the current exponential growth in the information technology (IT) industry. The geographical regions affected by the proposal include the State of Washington and, as a partner, the State of Alaska. The gap between industry demand and the higher education system's output of computer engineers, computer scientists, programmers and analysts is estimated to be 4:1 at the associate degree level and 8:1 at the baccalaureate degree level. This gap worsens with engineering disciplines added into the mix. In an independent study in 1999, the American Electronics Association (AEA) Washington Council cites a 59% increase in high-technology jobs while the entire state higher-education system produced only a 3% increase in technology and engineering graduates during the period 1990-1997. The AEA report makes numerous recommendations to deal with this alarming shortage, several of which we will addressed in this proposal:

  • systematic development of asynchronous on-line courses in electrical engineering [among others];
  • emphasis on programs that can be delivered both in traditional classroom settings and asynchronously on-line;
  • establishment of a statewide network of regional engineering laboratories; and
  • establishment of an Associate of Science degree to be granted by qualified community colleges.

This proposal addresses these specific needs emphasized by the above studies:

  • Critical hands-on experience (as opposed to "virtual" experience) in an asynchronous on-line two-year EE or computer engineering curriculum.
  • A systematic two-year EE curriculum deliverable in three formats: on-site, on-line (synchronous and asynchronous), and at-home. The at-home format (asynchronous on-line) is a special component targeted to meet the needs of students who must take courses from home due to a variety of reasons (full-time jobs, young children, disabilities, etc.), who live in remote Washington communities, and especially students in Alaska, where inclement weather and vast distances make access to the few available universities and community colleges impossible during much of the academic year.
  • A possible cost reduction in laboratory equipment, both to the institutions offering the curriculum and to the students.

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Approaches and strategies for improvement

Our general methodology essentially combines a project-driven curriculum development philosophy, the pervasive presence of PCs, and the availability of low-cost instrumentation tool kits to create low-level EE courses that offer truly hands-on laboratory experience to distance-learning students at another university, at a community college, and even at home.

Curriculum design

Traditional EE curriculum development methodologies follow a 3-step sequence to create: (1) learning objectives for a specific course, (2) lecture plan, (3) laboratory experiments. Experiments are created or re-used from laboratory manuals or textbooks more or less as an afterthought, a fact even more evident by the credit assignment: 3 to 4 credits to the lecture, and only 1 credit to the laboratory. Our philosophy is to switch steps 2 and 3: we design the experiments first to meet the learning objectives and to motivate students, and then create the lecture plan to provide knowledge to students "just in time" to perform the experiments. These experiments introduced to motivate students are called (for the lack of a better term) "motivating" experiments to distinguish them from the regular "verifying" experiments, which have been used only to verify theory. These two sets of experiments are of course not mutually exclusive: the motivating experiments are and should also be used as verifying experiments, nicely closing the feedback loop of learning.

Personal lab kit design for hands-on circuit experiments

Laboratory instrumentation for the first two years of a traditional EE curriculum includes a multimeter for simple measurements, an oscilloscope for more complicated measurements, a DC power supply with several settings, and a waveform / function generator. A personal lab kit including all functions necessary for circuit design and test experiments (multimeter, oscilloscope, DC supplies, waveform generators) may be built on a board to plug directly into a PC or in a prototype unit connected to a PC. In conjunction with available low-cost PCs and software, this personal lab kit (costing less than $200 each) provides the full test, verification, and data analysis capabilities required in EE low-level experiments.

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Project goals

Goal 1. Develop a laboratory-driven curriculum for four-year universities and community colleges (CCs) to include hands-on hardware-based laboratory experience. This curriculum may be delivered on-site (e.g. at a four-year university) or synchronously on-line (e.g. at a community college by a local instructor, using on-line materials).

Goal 2. Adapt and enhance this laboratory-driven curriculum to target students in geographically remote communities without convenient physical access to nearby post-secondary educational institutions. This curriculum is delivered asynchronously on-line. Hereafter, we will refer to these students as "at-home" students since they literally have to do all their course work at home. The constraint in this instance is the lack of any laboratory facility at all in the students' homes.

In developing a solution to the problem, we have to ensure that the methodology is transferable and replicable at many institutions, and that cost constraints are met, especially in the case of at-home students. These requirements are important enough to be included as a third project objective:

Goal 3. Establish a laboratory-driven curriculum development methodology, common to two-year and four-year institutions, to provide hands-on laboratory experience at a reasonable cost.

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Evaluation (assessment web site)

The evaluation plan includes both formative and summative evaluation questions to provide feedback to project developers and determine whether project objectives are met.

Formative evaluation questions will provide feedback to the project team over the course of the project to guide development and implementation of course materials. These questions will include:

  • How well do the developed curricula map to ABET learning objectives? Assessment tools for ABET learning objectives will be used consistently across all offerings.
  • How do students rate the quality of and their satisfaction with the various instructional components for each of the three formats (on-site, synchronous on-line, and at-home) as they are being developed?
  • How do participating college instructors rate the quality and effectiveness of the synchronous on-line format as it is being developed?

Summative evaluation questions will address the quality and usefulness of the completed course. These questions will include:

  • What is the overall quality and effectiveness of the on-site course based on student ratings, review of course documents and other indicators? How does the on-site course compare to similar courses without the "motivating" experiments? Do student course ratings show differences in satisfaction and assessment of course quality and effectiveness? Is there evidence of differences in student performance?
  • What is the overall quality and effectiveness of the synchronous on-line and at-home versions of the course? How do these courses compare to each other and to the on-site version in terms of student satisfaction and quality ratings, and performance on course assignments and exams? How do these courses compare to other courses students may have taken in-class or on-line? Are the printed materials well laid-out and useful? Are the personal lab kits useful, easy to use, reliable and inexpensive? What special problems do students have in taking the course synchronous on-line or at-home?
  • How do participating college instructors rate the quality and effectiveness of the courses? What do they think of the instructional effectiveness of the "motivating" experiments and the underlying instructional philosophy? Are the faculty handbooks well laid out and useful?
  • What are the demographic characteristics of students enrolled in each type of course?

The evaluation measures are document reviews, student focus groups and interviews, student course evaluations, student performance, and interviews with college instructors.

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Dissemination plan

This project distributes materials via UW Educational Outreach and EDGE, two established distance-learning organizations at the University of Washington. Textbooks and lab kits are also distributed by our partner Prentice Hall. In the future, we expect the lab kits to be sold by vendors as well. The distribution mechanisms re-use existing channels at low cost or no cost to the University. This aspect is crucial to the success of the project, especially to meet the massive needs and shortages cited in numerous studies.

The replicability of the distribution mechanisms at other institutions depends on whether these institutions have their own distance-learning organizations (many four-year universities do) and on whether community colleges are willing to use the asynchronous on-line course management systems provided by four-year universities. In our own state, the UW Online system is already available for use by the community colleges. The distribution of lab kits and written materials is easily replicable via the textbook channels (e.g. Prentice Hall).

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Materials

EE 233:

Schedule

2000 - 2001:

  • Develop two courses beginning Autumn 2000 (Basic circuit theory and design, basic analog circuit design). Deliver these two courses on-site at the UW in Spring 2001.
  • Evaluate these two courses in on-site format. Curriculum and materials revisions.
  • Begin developing remaining two courses (Basic digital and logic circuit design, and introductory signal-processing theory and circuits) in Spring 2001.

2001 - 2002:

  • Complete development of all four courses in Autumn 2001.
  • Deliver all four courses on-site at UW and in synchronous on-line format at partner institutions.
  • Evaluate all four courses in both formats. Curriculum and materials revisions.
  • Deliver two courses (Basic circuit theory and design, basic analog circuit design) to at-home students.
  • Evaluate these two courses in asynchronous on-line format. Curriculum and materials revisions.

2002 - 2003:

  • Deliver all four courses in all three formats.
  • Evaluate all four courses in all three formats.
  • Plan for nationwide distribution of curriculum and materials.

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Deliverables

  • Instructional design and materials: curriculum contents, laboratory experiments, personal lab kits, lecture plans, on-line lessons, assignments, textbooks, etc.
  • Web-based materials (course web sites, discussion forums, chat rooms) and videos.
  • Faculty handbook for teaching these courses and for developing new experiments.
  • Evaluation tool kits, self-assessment tools, evaluation data, and associated materials.

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Reports

Formal project reports

Informal reports and other documents

Awards, gifts, and other information

Cypress Semiconductor, Woodinville, WA: gift of four USB development systems, August 2000. Technical assistance in USB designs.

National Instruments, Austin, TX: gift of a full Labview development system, November 2001. Technical assistance in USB driver designs.

 

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Participating units within the University of Washington

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 Last Updated:
07/13/2001

Contact the site manager at: soma@ee.washington.edu