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The Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE) Department at Duke University, Durham, NC, is undergoing extensive curriculum revisions that incorporate novel content, organization, and teaching methods. The cornerstone of the new curriculum is a theme-based introductory course, fundamentals of ECE. To introduce students to the major areas of ECE in their first year of study, this course is organized around three concepts: 1) how to interface with the physical world; 2) how to transmit energy and information; and 3) how to extract, interpret, and analyze information. To provide insight and motivation, the course is designed to introduce multiple areas of ECE, emphasizing how they are interrelated and how they contribute to the design and functioning of real-world applications. Also, the course must engage its students, many of whom are evaluating ECE as a prospective major and career. To achieve these goals, the course adopts a unifying theme, tightly couples lecture and laboratory exercises, and includes a laboratory experience that emphasizes design, integration, and real applications. The interactive classroom content and laboratory exercises are developed iteratively so that each course component supports the other, rather than one being dominant and driving the other. As the context focus of the laboratory, a robotic platform enables the exploration of a broad range of ECE concepts, both independently and integrated into an entire system. For their final design project, students form small groups, which in turn combine into larger teams, to create robots that work together to overcome realistic challenges. This paper describes the curricular objectives and key course elements that guide course development, the resulting content and structure of the course, and the assessment data that indicate successful achievement of the curricular goals.
Date of Publication: Aug. 2007