laboratory-driven Electrical Engineering 2-year curriculum
for distance and at-home learning
University of Washington, Seattle, WA
Fund for the Improvement of Post-Secondary Education (FIPSE), US Department of Education.
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:
This proposal addresses these specific needs emphasized by the above studies:
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.
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.
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.
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:
Summative evaluation questions will address the quality and usefulness of the completed course. These questions will include:
The evaluation measures are document reviews, student focus groups and interviews, student course evaluations, student performance, and interviews with college instructors.
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).
2000 - 2001:
2001 - 2002:
2002 - 2003:
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.
Participating units within the University of Washington
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