College of Engineering News • Iowa State University

Two ECpE engineers receive Miller Open Education Mini-Grant to revamp EE lab exercises

Photo of Julie Dickerson
Julie Dickerson
Photo of Andrew Bolstad
Andrew Bolstad

Two engineers with Iowa State University‘s Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECpE) have been awarded a Miller Open Education Mini-Grant for their proposal entitled, “Open Signals and Systems Lab Exercises.” ECpE’s Professor Julie Dickerson and Adjunct Assistant Professor Andrew Bolstad received the award to revamp the laboratory portion of the ISU course Electrical Engineering (EE) 224: Signals and Systems I, a class taken by all EE majors, to make the lab exercises more interesting and exciting for students.

“Specifically, we want to make the labs more ‘hands on’ by giving students a chance to work with real hardware rather than just simulations in MATLAB,” Bolstad said. “We will do this by using a data acquisition device called CyDAQ, which was originally developed as a senior design project by ECpE students Chris Caldwell, Eric Joyce, Leif Bauer, Marty Szuck, Nicholas Star and Tyler Tran, under the guidance of Professor Julie Dickerson.”

The Miller Open Education Mini-Grant Program is new to Iowa State, co-sponsored by the University Library, the Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching (CELT) and the Office of the Senior Vice President and Provost (SVPP). These grants provide instructors with opportunities to enhance their scholarship of teaching and learning, as well as assigning new and less expensive materials to students, by integrating Open Educational Resources (OER) into their courses. OER is defined as “high-quality teaching, learning and research materials that are free for people everywhere to use and repurpose.” The open licenses under which these items are released allow users to create, reuse, and redistribute copies of the resources, which can include anything from textbooks to lab books, videos, and interactive course modules.

“It is relatively easy to find laboratory exercises from different universities online, but few of them are explicitly licensed to be open source,” Bolstad said. “One great thing about the Miller Mini-Grant is that it provides library resources to publish the OER that we develop through ISU Digital Press under a Creative Commons license. That way we can share our work outside of ISU so that other universities or interested individuals can adapt our work for non-commercial purposes.”

According to the University Library, “Studies show that utilizing OER not only eases the cost of education, but also improves student success and retention. Furthermore, these grants will provide opportunities for instructors to create educational resources that other academic institutions can use in the future.”

Bolstad said, “We believe that this work will have an impact in several ways. More exciting lab exercises will improve student learning and increase enthusiasm for signals processing, communications and control systems. With more students specializing in these areas, we will produce more graduates who will take these skills into the workforce, where they will enhance the reputation of Iowa State as an excellent engineering school. We will also increase the visibility of Iowa State engineering by making our lab exercises available as OER through ISU Digital Press. This will include design documents for the CyDAQ boards. Imagine if engineering students all over the country, or even the world, were using equipment designed by ECpE students for their EE labs.”

The EE 224 project will span one year, with most work taking place this summer. The team has already surveyed students regarding their laboratory experiences and what they would like to see in the lab, and they plan to spend this summer rewriting, testing and revising labs. They will use that material in EE 224 this fall, gathering more feedback from students and teaching assistants, and they plan to publish labs this winter, culminating in more improvements for summer 2020.

The new Miller Open Education Mini-Grant program comes from the Miller Faculty Fellowship Program, which was made possible by the generosity of F. Wendell Miller, who left his entire estate jointly to Iowa State University and the University of Iowa. His bequest helped to establish the F. Wendell Miller Trust, the annual earnings of which, in part, help support faculty development proposals that advance the university’s strategic plan. The program is administered by the President’s Office and the Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching.