The current paradigm in engineering course instruction builds on a lecture prerequisite structure but ignores the need for a laboratory prerequisite structure. Educational quality is therefore diminished as instructors optimize specific laboratories but fail to optimize the overall program laboratory experience. This project focuses on creating a learning environment that forces students to use not only concepts and skills but also actual data and models from lower division laboratories in upper division laboratories. The integration occurs because students must utilize their previous laboratory work as a reference as they study the different facets of the same experimental setups in multiple engineering laboratories. The vertically integrated learning environment builds on a lower division course such as electrical circuits and targets upper division courses such as dynamics and automatic controls. This approach requires the students to use specific skills in modern instrumentation from circuits to verify mathematical models in dynamics, and then use these mathematical models as sequential building blocks when completing laboratory exercises in the automatic controls course. The learning environment occurs in a new Integrated Systems Engineering Laboratory that, in addition to dynamics and controls, supports laboratories in machine design, vibrations, and digital signal processing, as well as projects in senior design and undergraduate student research. This laboratory uses experimental setups such as a vertical pendulum and a mobile robot that can be shown to be ideal platforms to support this vertically integrated learning environment. A comprehensive evaluation plan entails coordination of an internal and external evaluator by the Dean of Engineering. Further, an aggressive dissemination plan is outlined that relies heavily on modern technology such as the Internet and a recordable CD ROM. This project has the potential for national impact because it challenges the existing par adigm of laboratory instruction and completely redefines the way universities develop instructional laboratories.
Development of an Innovative Integrated Learning Environment for Laboratory Instruction in Engineering