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What to do when the teaching lab instruments are too sophisticated for the students?

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1 Author(s)
Siegel, M. ; Robotics Inst., Carnegie Mellon Univ., Pittsburgh, PA, USA

The paper identifies a fundamental problem of educational prosperity: it is nowadays easy to find teaching laboratories whose near-research-grade instrumentation is too sophisticated for the students. This is illustrated by the specific case of an introductory course in electricity, electronics, and electromechanics aimed at non-electrical undergraduate engineering students. The complexity of the instrumentation leaves little alternative, in the conventional laboratory exercise model, to handing the student a recipe for pushing the fight buttons in the right order. This paper proposes an alternative that is the complement of typical virtual instrumentation applications. In the usual sort of application the virtual instruments are software interface artifacts that turn simple measurement modules into sophisticated data acquisition and control systems. In the proposed application, the identical interface, communication, and control software technology makes complex data acquisition and control systems appear, to the student, to be instances of simple, comprehensible, signal source and measurement components. A graded approach is described whereby the apparent sophistication of the underlying measurement hardware grows in step with the student's growing comprehension and comfort.

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Virtual and Intelligent Measurement Systems, 2002. VIMS '02. 2002 IEEE International Symposium on

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