Enabling Tomorrow’s Engineers to Take Ownership of Their Education

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"Once the students own a portable electronics lab, they can start to own their education. They can experiment and study anywhere, anytime. We have used myDAQ to increase student motivation and lab time, without a significant investment in traditional lab equipment, rooms, or teacher hours."

- Erja Sipilä, Tampere University of Technology (TUT), Laboratory of Electronics and Communications Engineering (LECE)

The Challenge:
Finding a cost-efficient solution to improve student motivation and learning outcomes by significantly increasing the amount of hands-on work in bachelor’s-level electronics studies, whilst maintaining our current cost over time.

The Solution:
Introducing myDAQ and Multisim to the electronic engineering course to refine our students’ hands-on laboratory experience and help students design, simulate, prototype, and measure electrical circuits anywhere, any time. This boosted student motivation, and encouraged them to take ownership of their own education.

Author(s):
Erja Sipilä - Tampere University of Technology (TUT), Laboratory of Electronics and Communications Engineering (LECE)

NI Products Used: myDAQ, Multisim

Introduction

In the Finnish university model, students have control over the amount of time they take to complete their studies. For example, students can delay their graduation if they are falling behind. The Finnish government discourages this and aims for students in higher education to graduate fast, so they can start their careers as young as possible. Fast graduation can be especially problematic in engineering. The students, our future engineers, need to understand and master complex skills and knowledge before graduation to truly contribute to the Finnish and worldwide work force.

Increasing a student’s desire to learn is an effective way of encouraging faster graduation; however, it is also a major challenge. In electronics, students need and want extensive, practical, hands-on experience to transform theoretical concepts into actual working devices. For electronics, this hands-on work often includes designing and simulating circuits before prototyping and verifying them in the real world.

Previously, insufficient staff time and equipment limited the time that students could spend in the laboratory. However, students obviously needed more opportunities to practice circuit design, simulation, construction, and verification to bridge the gap between complex theory and practical hands-on work.

We wanted to solve this problem without making a significant investment in new lab equipment and teacher hours. We decided to give every bachelor-level electronics student a NI myDAQ device and Multisim software. The myDAQ is small enough to take anywhere, so students can perform measurements wherever they go and whenever they want.

In addition to myDAQ and Multisim, we gave the students breadboards, wire kits, and a selection of basic electronics components. Once the students own a portable electronics lab, they can start to own their education. They can experiment and study anywhere, anytime. We have used myDAQ to increase student motivation and lab time, without a significant investment in traditional lab equipment, rooms, or teacher hours.

 

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Figure 1. A student assignment utilizes myDAQ with a breadboard.

 

Integrating myDAQ and Multisim in Electronics Courses


The basic procedure for using myDAQs with Multisim in TUT electronics courses is as follows:
• First students solve the problem with pen and paper.
          o     If corrections are required, the student repeats this phase.
• Then they simulate the problem with Multisim.
          o     If corrections are required, the student repeats this phase.
• Next, they construct the circuit on the breadboards before using myDAQ to measure and verify circuit functionality.
          o      If corrections are required, the student repeats this phase.
• In some cases, depending on the task, the students build an actual device prototype on a printed circuit board.

We have found this procedure effective at boosting student comprehension by connecting electronic theory to practice. In addition, the students learn to understand the importance of all the process steps. Students must understand how the circuits should function, which is ensured in the pen and paper phase. In the simulation phase, the students verify their results from the pen and paper phase and realize the differences between ideal and non-ideal components. Furthermore, the real-life limitations and non-idealities become clear in the breadboard phase.

Student Feedback

The integration of myDAQ and Multisim into the electronics course had an almost immediate impact (see Table 1). We use an electronic system to secure student feedback for every course module. The introduction of the new myDAQ-based module led to significant increases in student satisfaction. We also saw this in other LECE modules that introduced myDAQ.


Table 1. Student feedback shows results for electronics components course with and without myDAQ devices.

 

Written feedback is often the most clarifying feedback for a teacher. Table 2 shows example student comments regarding the myDAQ-based module. Duplicate feedback is only in the table once.  NI myDAQ helped boost study motivation and facilitated the study of complex concepts through practical implementation. Any negative feedback focused on a few technical shortcomings, like incompatibility with a specific operating system or a short power cable, but did not impact the learning experience.


Table 2. Students provided written course feedback related to myDAQs.

 

Teacher’s Feedback

At the very beginning, the integration of myDAQs into the curriculum increased teacher workload. Although NI offers a range of ready-made courseware, none of it quite fit our specific requirements. However, the NI courseware served as a good starting point, and enabled our teachers to customize the assignments for our curriculum. Following this initial investment of time, the work load remained the same as in courses without myDAQ devices.

 


Figure 2. A student assignment, an RF radio transmitter, uses myDAQ and Multisim.

Even though the initial introduction of myDAQ into the course required significant work, it was worth it. The students are more familiar with simulation and measurements than before and more motivated to study on their own time, which results in better learning outcomes and transferable engineering skills. Our students are now graduating with more practical experience than ever before, which is exactly what employees want.

 

Conclusion

We have formally introduced myDAQ and Multisim into many TUT electronics courses and our students can take these technologies home with them. We can increase our students’ practical engineering experience significantly without increasing teacher workload (aside from the initial time investment). The renewed focus on hands-on learning has dramatically improved student motivation, confidence, and skills. The portability of myDAQ helps the students take ownership of their learning, and thus, their future.

Real, practical engineering experiences are vital to the technical disciplines and an integral part of an engineer’s occupation and identity. The pros of systematically integrating myDAQ into university-level engineering education overwhelm the cons. NI myDAQ and Multisim have been a very welcome addition to TUT courses, from both the student and staff points of view.

Author Information:
Erja Sipilä
Tampere University of Technology (TUT), Laboratory of Electronics and Communications Engineering (LECE)

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