There's a growing focus on increasing the number of students in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics fields. At the University of Massachusetts Lowell (UMass-Lowell), we are working to provide first-year electrical and computer engineering (ECE) students with meaningful, hands-on project exposure.
We've opted for a hands-on learning approach, with what we called a lab in a box — an Analog Discovery kit. This is a complete, low-cost electronics workbench that is portable and flexible. With this lab, every student gets an individual setup and completes projects individually.
Our curriculum is not just for ECE programs in the US. We have used this kit and approach to establish similar programs in India. We worked with the Shri Vishnu Engineering College for Women in Bhimavaram, Andhra Pradesh (about 100 students); the coed BV Raju Institute of Technology (BVRIT) in Medak, Andhra Pradesh (also about 100 students); and the new BVRIT Hyderabad College of Engineering for Women, with a first-year class of 240 students.
Engineering lab facilities for students in India are even more constrained than those in the US. Up to 10 students may share a test bench, and hands-on exposure to flexible, open-ended engineering design is limited.
The program leverages the realities of the student situation and infrastructure in India. Power outages are a common, unavoidable occurrence there, but this lab kit is entirely USB powered and can continue to function with a laptop during those periods. Indian students tend to have more exposure to theory but lack access to equipment, because textbooks are cheaper than equipment. Therefore, cost and USB-only power are key considerations.
The lab in a box is not a virtual lab, with PC-based simulations of circuits and presumed results. This is a real, hands-on electronics lab. Students build basic circuits, exercise them with waveforms and switch closures, collect analog and digital data, control outputs, use oscilloscopes, and analyze the results.
As we prepare to head back to school, we're developing open designs for first-year ECE students. If you have ideas or suggestions, we'd be interested in hearing them.
Erin Webster, a graduate student in computer engineering at UMass-Lowell, assisted Weitzen in preparing this blog. Webster recently received her undergraduate degree from UMass-Lowell. She is also a teaching assistant for the ECE program. She and Weitzen are developing a curriculum and teaching program that will provide first-year and second-year ECE students with hands-on learning experience using the lab in a box” based on the Analog Discovery Design kit plus auxiliary components. Webster may be reached at .
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