ECE110 SIIP Results

ECE 110: Intro to Electronics

I have been the course director for ECE 110 Introduction to Electrical and Computer Engineering since 2013. The curriculum change of fall 2014 included the official inclusion of our sister course, ECE 120 Introduction to Computing, and necessitated reconsideration of the topical content of ECE 110 soon soon after renamed Introduction to Electronics.

In the spring of 2014, several persons involved in the course development of both ECE110 and ECE120 formed a team for a Strategic Instructional Innovations Program (SIIP) grant. Our high-level goals were to implement several evidence-based best practices in teaching and learning to the courses strengthening student engagement and learning while improving retention of under-represented student populations in the department. This team formed the foundation of a community of practice that remains strong today and is helping to spread the use of similar best practices to other areas of the ECE curriculum including our presence at Zhejiang University (ZJU). Our course redesign has found success in that it is attractive to students and, somewhat surprisingly, is becoming an attractive teaching assignment for faculty despite its large roster.

Goals Met

    • Synergy between the course lectures and laboratory procedures.
    • Clearly stated learning objectives for the lecture and for the laboratory.
      • Defines students expectations and improves confidence in exam preparation.
      • Reduces unintentional upward “content drift” for instructors.
    • Modern web site with auto-generated access to past exams.
    • Concise, complete, and attractive course notes in online format.
      • Assertive titles to make main points more memorable.
      • Expandable examples to allow for detail only when needed.
    • A Best Practices document.
      • Advisory for ECE110
      • Updated with newer applied practices over time
      • Advisory for many other courses in the college
    • A Merit workshop
      • Build community and confidence
      • Improve retention of underrepresented students
    • James Scholars honors section.
      • ECE110 and ECE120 students working together
      • Electronics requirement for ECE110
      • Computing requirement for ECE120
    • Explore More! Laboratory Modules
      • Enable self-selection of learning materials
      • Innovative autonomy-supportive teaching practice
      • Improve students’ intrinsic motivation to learn
    • Content personalization through student surveys
      • Discover student interests
      • Use these responses while generating new course materials.
    • Improved 1:1 opportunities through increased office hours
    • Photo and video production
      • Improve student comprehension of laboratory tasks
      • Time-elapsed lab exercise goals
      • Full context with the lab’s semester-long goals
      • i>clicker questions for classroom engagement
      • Workshops
        • exploratory work
        • application of recently-acquired knowledge
        • optional exam preparation
        • laboratory workshops to aid in the acquisition of skills tangential to the core lab materials like basic soldering and programming
      • Online problem database (in PrairieLearn)
        • homework
        • exam assessments
      • The use of the Computer-Based Testing Facility for both online testing as well as retry exams.
      • Base set of lecture slides available for instructors of all four lecture sections. Improves the ability of a new instructor to come up to speed with the course and teach confidently for each exam.

Best of SIIP

While many achievements were witnessed by this project, there are perhaps two that are most noteworthy for their novelty, their effect on the course, and their implications for other courses that may choose to adopt them in the future.

The first is the (online) retry exam. Taking advantage of students’ motivation for learning caused by a recent “unsatisfactory” exam grade, the retry exam first requires students to complete a practice exam, then return to the exam center to attempt a new (randomized) version of the exam. While retry exams themselves are not new, our implementation mandates the taking of the practice exam as a mastery-improving task while simultaneously discouraging students from relying on the retry score by using a weighted scale. Students are able to improve their score by a weighted sum of the original and retry exam scores with the largest improvements available to those students with the lowest original scores.

The second is the introduction of Explore More! Laboratory Modules. Recognizing the large variability in abilities and interests in a first-year course in electronics, the core laboratory procedure is shortened to provide time for a number of semi-required modules chosen from a large database. The modules vary in length and difficulty as well as in application. Students who are new to electronics have the opportunity to improve their grasp of fundamentals while students with experience can elect to dig much deeper into the concepts. Self-selection is known to generally draw upon intrinsic motivation and the course has witnessed an increased range of applications in the final project.

Departmental Support

The department has provided faculty appointments to ECE110, one an associate professor with interest in best practices for teaching and learning. Additionally, it provided TA support for Merit, Honors, and PrairieLearn development. ECE 110 continues to be upheld by the department as a model of best practices.

Faculty Outcomes

The team participated in weekly-to-biweekly meetings under the title of “ECE110 SIIP” for the purpose of determining which instances of “best practices in teaching and learning” to apply to the course and to determine the best application of newer tools such as Online Testing and Second-Chance (Retry) Testing opportunities. The diversity of the team (including Geoffrey Herman teaching CS233 and Cinda Heeren teaching CS225) provided excellent material for comparison and tentative decisions where best practices had not been previously established. Early informal feedback was conducted and used by each instructor for self-evaluation.

Student Outcomes

Heuristic evidence is currently available to support that the course has improved upon its goal to excite students about the discipline and provide them the skills for engineering design in the area of electronics. Projects from the regular lab session as well as those produced in the ECE 110 Honors lab exceeded, on average, the levels of creativity and functionality of projects from several past semesters. We anticipate finding further evidence of enhanced student engagement in the student surveys. We have plans to move forward with IRB approval to improve our opportunity for documentation of the outcomes of practices used in ECE110, particularly those associated with the use of the Second-Chance Testing (SIIP project under Craig Zilles) and of the Explore More! Laboratory Modules.

Sustainability and Trajectory

Multiple new assignments including several tenure-track Professors has allowed the course’s structure to demonstrate its ability to welcome new staff. In fact, in the case of ECE 110, the demands on a new instructor for such a large class is now likely to be below the norm expected for any course of any size. The new lecturers have attested to the smooth integration of staff to the course and the ability to regularly discuss, propose, and decide upon changes to the learning objectives while keeping content “bloat” in check. The benefits of reduced day-to-day demands is hoped to provide time for deeper attention to course improvement. We believe that this 460-to-480-student intro to electronics course has become an attractive teaching role for tenure-track faculty.

Selected Team Publications

• Minin, S., Varodayan, D., Schmitz, C., Faulkner, B., Herman, G. L. (in submission). Minority Merit: Improving Retention with Cooperative Learning in a First-Year Electronics Course. In Proceedings of the 46th ASEE/IEEE Frontiers in Education Conference.
• Faulkner, B. & Herman, G. L. (2015). Effect of Assertion Headings and Expandable Examples in an Online Engineering Textbook, In Proceedings of the Forty-fifth ASEE/IEEE Frontiers in Education Conference, (pp. 1866-1874). El Paso, TX, Oct. 21-24. DOI: 10.1109/FIE.2015.7344329
• Faulkner, B., Herman, G. L., & Varodayan, D. (2015). Assertive Titling and Expandable Examples in Online Engineering Textbooks, In Proceedings of the 2015 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference and Exposition. Seattle, WA. June 14-17.
• Renata A. Revelo, Christopher D. Schmitz, Duyen T. Le, and Michael C. Loui, Self-Efficacy as a Long-Term Outcome of a General Education Course on Digital Technologies, IEEE Transactions on Education, 09 January 2017.