Electromagnetic (EM) fields are traditionally taught as a fundamental pillar of knowledge within electrical engineering curriculum. EM theory has allowed engineers and scientists to create and develop an array of applications through the discovery of many fundamental aspects of nature. These discoveries have paved the way for larger humanitarian impact such as enabling communication across vast distances. Nevertheless, over the last decade, there has been a decrease in interest of our electrical engineering students in taking more elective electromagnetic courses in our curriculum.
The classical delivery format of EM theory has led to the material being too abstract and lacks application of modern teaching technologies in the material. In our current curriculum, students are introduced to electromagnetics in their junior year. This course has a weekly 3-hour lecture and a weekly 2-hour recitation or lab with a smaller number of students per section. Generally, the outcome of this course determines if the student wants to pursue advanced EM-focused elective courses. In an effort to create a more intellectually engaging approach to EM theory, we have initiated a sequence of steps to produce a more meaningful EM experience for the students.
The first step was reported in a recent paper to the ASEE with the description of a pilot hands-on approach to the teaching of electromagnetics. The outcome of this study produced compelling positive responses from the students. As a follow-up, the second step focuses on holistic hands-on activities to completing a final project for the course, which is the implementation of a low-power continuous wave radar. By selecting a radar implementation, the students could use this instrument to understand other fundamental electrical engineering topics such as electronic circuits, power systems, signal processing, etc. To prepare the students for the final project of the electromagnetics course, seven laboratory experiments are being developed to follow the classroom lectures so students can reinforce content from each lecture through hands-on experience (coordination with lectures is crucial). Each lab experiment requires the understanding of each topic currently covered in the course, including electrostatics, magnetostatics, Maxwell’s equations, transmission lines, wave propagation, reflection and transmission, and radiation and antennas. The contents of each lab experiment is designed using successful pedagogical techniques to develop a student’s critical thinking. Students are introduced to an ‘exploratory’ component where students develop new ideas. Additionally, each laboratory experiment includes a ‘pause’ section through which students as a group reflect on the implications of the laboratory activities. The laboratory assignments include introductory as well as high level experiments for students to develop the expertise necessary to complete the low-power continuous wave radar project.
This paper reports the motivation to create engaging approaches to teaching electromagnetics, the integration of the lab material with the course lecture content, and the strategy for obtaining support of the electrical engineering faculty to pursue this new approach to the lab component of the course. This paper is a work-in-progress and is intended to be delivered as a regular presentation at the 2019 ASEE Annual Conference.
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