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Electrical Engineering Modules

The design studio is a series of on-line modules, a new approach to the recitation sections of sophomore circuits courses. Students are presented with problems with conflicting criteria that need to be balanced and have multiple solutions. The creators of these discuss the modules, and Rebecca Morrison gives information on the evaluation of them. The names below are linked to pages that contain this additional information, as well as e-mail addresses for these principals from Texas A&M University. These design studio problems can be accessed at

The Design Studio Contact

Prasad Enjeti (e-mail: )
Texas A&M University

We used the design studio for the first time last semester. It was used it in ELEN 214, the first electrical engineering course (electrical circuits). This is a four-hour course with a laboratory. It has a scheduled fifty-minute recitation section, in addition. In the past, the recitation section was used to solve problems. The design studio is a problem stated in words, a real-world problem. Sometimes there is no circuit diagram. After using design studio, students asked many questions in class.

Teaching assistant Rebecca Morrison conducted an evaluation of the design studio. Five percent of the grade is for design-studio work. The solutions are not posted. Each student gets three chances to solve the problem. If he/she gets the wrong answer, then the computer gives the student the correct answer.

We wanted to get more done and wanted the students to be challenged.

ELEN 214 emphasizes in-depth circuit analysis including some aspects of circuit design. The course includes a laboratory to expose students to measurement equipment, simulation of circuits, and here they can verify their designs on breadboards. Historically this course has been taught primarily from the (bottom up) perspective of engineering science whereby the mathematical and analytical tools required to solve for electrical circuit responses are presented and exercised through extensive problem solving. During the course of the TETC project it was felt that this approach is somewhat sterile and has not been effective in demonstrating the excitement and creative opportunities afforded by careers in electrical and computer engineering. Beginning Fall 2001 the Electrical Engineering Department significantly altered the instructional philosophy of ELEN 214 “Electric Circuit Theory” course by introducing more engineering design in the curriculum and adopted WebCT based interactive homework submission system. Further, several changes have been made to introduce more challenging and industry related experiments in the laboratory portion of this course. The next few sections detail these changes.

Design Studio: A design studio concept was introduced in ELEN 214 with several open-ended, realistic, top down electrical engineering circuits problems that have numerous solutions, and often either have missing information or too much information. Additional real-world constraints (such as efficiency, size, weight, power requirements, cost, and manufacturability) were introduced as appropriate, as well as tradeoffs among various solutions in light of these often conflicting constraints, to arrive at an optimum solution. Students were divided into groups, and each group received a specific problem assignment each week. A teaching assistant was employed to explain the problem and supervise the design process involved along with the constraints. The following Web link has the details of each design problem along with the most optimum solution:
The students’ experience seems to be very positive, and this approach will be continued as a part of the ELEN 214 with additional problems.

WebCT – Automatic Homework Submission System: Beginning Fall 2001, WebCT, an established Web software package that gives a structure to course WebPages, has been utilized to allow students to submit their homework online and have it graded immediately. In other words, in a class of 200 students, each student is presented with an individual homework with a unique set of problems not repeated to anyone else via WebCT. Each student has three chances to complete each homework problem. In most cases, the numerical values of several circuit parameters are changed so the student must rework formulas with different values in order to the correct value. After a student has submitted an answer, the student receives a grade. Over the course of a semester, students have a week to complete the homework problems. The problems still come from their textbook or from examples in the text.

WebCT Help Desk: For added guidance in solving WebCT based homework problems, a peer help desk was made available. In the spring of 2003, the help desk was open roughly thirty hours per week. The undergraduate students staffing the help desk all completed the course with an A the previous semester. Comments from the students indicated that most found the help desk to be helpful in completing their homework assignments. However, some students requested extra hours.

Laboratory Improvements: In the 2002–03 school year, sets of three labs were introduced using the implementation of multiple stages of an op-amp that created an electronic security system. Although components, such as a latch, an LED and photo detector, were introduced that were not studied in class, the practical aspect of these experiments have led us to continue the improvements in the lab.

As mentioned before, this summer a group of seven is working to continue to improve the lab experiments for Electrical Engineering 214. We have several goals in our rewriting of the laboratories. First, we are introducing state of the art equipment to the labs. We are obtaining new computers, new oscilloscopes, programmable loads, solar panels producing DC output, and 8 NI ELVIS stations for our laboratories. With the NI ELVIS stations, we will also be using Labview and leading students through some basic programming of virtual instruments as part of their pre-labs.

A second goal includes adjusting the evaluation of this portion of the course to insure the important concepts are being addressed. This includes having the Labview and PSPICE programming due as a pre-lab to be sure students understand the concepts and procedure before beginning the experiment. We also hope to utilize WebCT in a post-experiment evaluation quiz for each student. This will allow individual evaluation without added burden on each teaching assistant.

A third goal for the redesign of the experiments is to make all of the labs interesting, accessible and focused on an implementation of engineering concepts. We are keeping the security system introduced in 2002–03 but adjusting it to include collection of data with the NI ELVIS system. We are also including experiments that introduce filters, multiple stages for filters, uses and limitations of renewable energy, and exploration of power concepts in DC and AC, and biomedical uses of electrical circuits.

As mentioned, our redesign of the laboratories is currently in progress, and our new experiments will be tested and implemented in the fall of 2003. The creation of a lab manual is a process, and we hope student feedback in the fall will allow further improvements to be implemented in the spring of 2004.

A final upgrade to the course we hope to implement involves the design studio. We are obtaining a new milling machine that will allow students to have one or more of their designs built. This will allow students to see a finished product from their designs. We hope this will encourage students to continue their studies.

Jo Howze

Graham Booker

Rebecca Morrison



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