Active learning strategies were employed both inside and outside of the lab environment to develop more confident and more motivated self-learners in a two-course electronics sequence at the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, Villanova University. This pedagogy emphasizes the development of an individual student’s knowledge on a certain topic outside of class before structured, group-related activities are performed in a lab setting. As a result, the students more effectively contribute to peer-to-peer learning, since each individual is well equipped to bring specific expertise to the group. Individual efforts combined with group-related activities provide a new dynamic where each activity urges the students to be motivated self-learners who are also strong collaborative members of a team.
Outside of the class meeting period, learning modules utilizing circuit simulations and portable circuit board-based lab measurements were assigned to encourage the student to learn at his or her own pace wherever and whenever. With significant individual work completed outside of the class period, the instructors were able to focus on assessing the student’s performance in real time through in-class group-related activities. Within the group, each student had different responsibilities for different aspects of the design. Consequently, a better determination of each student’s level of absorption of the class materials was achieved.
This approach was implemented in two electronics courses:
• Sophomore level “ECE 2550: Introduction to Electronics & Applications” in the spring semesters of 2014-2016.
• Junior level “ECE 3550: Analog Electronics” in the Fall semesters of 2014-2016.
Lab modules using a Multisim circuit simulator and a myDAQ data acquisition unit from National Instruments were developed to (1) provide opportunities for faculty to challenge the students to perform more complex electronic circuit designs and (2) foster more productive and student-centered peer-peer interactions. These out-of-class activities provided more time for interactive active learning based problem sessions in class. Ultimately, this increased the efficiency of classroom activities and the effectiveness of the faculty’s teaching in the limited formal class time. This paper discusses the implementation of the pedagogy with examples for specific projects, faculty experiences and challenges, and student feedback with the new approach.
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