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Popcorn and Oscilloscopes!

The Ohio State Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE) department is using popcorn and test equipment from Keysight Technologies to make a difference in the classroom for sophomore engineering students.

“We wanted to create a new and unique learning environment for our ECE sophomores”, says Dr. Furrukh Khan, ECE Professor at OSU. In the past, ECE lectures and labs were not integrated and received poor reviews from students. The outdated labs consisted of a breadboard, wires, wire-cutters and a handful of electronic components. This approach led to frustration on the part of the students which detracted from their ability to grasp EE concepts.

In 2010 under the guidance of Professor Lee, ECE department’s chair, OSU embarked on a project to address this issue by implementing a new and modern teaching methodology with the following goals:

  • Integrate ECE lectures and labs
  • Adopt a ‘Systems First Approach’ in which students build high level systems first and learn about lower level details later
  • Introduce students to real life engineering problems
  • Adopt a three prong approach of theory, simulation and experimentation for all major concepts
  • Heavily utilize learning technology such as high quality videos, iPads, and state of the art test equipment and software
  • Provide an inviting environment for the students which is conducive to learning and fun

The end result of this endeavor is a comprehensive set of learning tools including 40-50 high quality videos that synchronize lectures and lab lessons - all available to the students via iPads or online. In addition, a sophomore lab was created, complete with fully equipped workbenches open to the students 12 hours per day including weekends.

Key elements to the success of the program are the 20 lab workbenches (soon to be expanded by an additional 50 workbenches) equipped with industry-standard tools such as oscilloscopes, signal generators, and power supplies from Keysight Technologies. Keysight manufactures a wide range of equipment, from basic general-purpose instruments to high-performance RF and microwave products. Keysight’s oscilloscopes provide an excellent price/performance threshold for the education environment and provide the ability to upgrade hardware capabilities through software add-ons.

“Our goal is to leverage technology such as Keysight’s test instruments to bring world class technology to the students,” says Dr. Khan. “When our engineering students graduate, they can make a seamless transition to industry since they have been exposed to industry standard hardware, software, and methodologies.”

This new approach gives the students the flexibility to work through the materials on their own time at their own speed. The university benefits as well. Fewer teaching assistants are required to support the lab sessions which typically have 500-600 students passing through during any given academic year.

But Dr. Khan didn’t stop there. After getting a tour of the employee lounges at some high tech companies such as Microsoft, he set out to create a similar environment for his engineering students. Part of the lab was set aside as a sophomore-only space featuring rugs, a cozy couch, an LCD TV, a microwave and, yes, a popcorn machine! “Students are energized and engaged by this environment,” reflects Professor Khan. “It gives them a sense of identity within the department and provides them a place to study, learn, and socialize. We encourage our students to work hard, but then relax with a classic Austin Powers video or compete with their fellow students at a game of Mortal Kombat.”

The modern equipment featured on the lab workbenches has a secondary benefit as well. “When we give university tours, both parents and students are impressed with the state-of-the-art equipment we make available via our program. Visitors especially take note of the larger screens on the Keysight oscilloscopes,” states Professor Khan.

“We have achieved our goal of integrating our lectures and labs with a 3-prong approach to include theory, simulation, and practice with hardware, software, and equipment - and Keysight test gear allows us to do this.”

The integrated sophomore experience is now a key element in OSU’s ECE program and is looking to expand the program to junior and senior level courses.

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