Tackling Real-World Problems in First-Year Electrical Engineering Experiences
This paper is a Complete Paper – Evidence Based Practice. Engaging first-year engineering students with projects rooted in real-world problems can help keep the students engaged both in the project as well as the course overall. In their work studying intrinsic motivation , Deci and Ryan found that connecting one’s work to greater contexts of significance or social import is a key factor in motivating better understanding and connecting one’s work to other experiences. They also found that it results in improved commitment, effort, and performance. The work in  underscores the importance of active, discipline-based lab-learning on student retention and further supports the use of such activities. Situative learning and other learner-centered approaches [3-4] are frequently developed around exercises with real-world context grounded in experiences the learner can relate to; they have also been linked to improved student learning outcomes and persistence.
For the past three years, first-year students in the Electrical and Computer Engineering program at the University have contributed to the development of a water quality measurement device intended to serve as an inexpensive, reliable, hand-held replacement for the conventional bench-top water quality measurement system. Students in this introductory course have tested design concepts and developed the user interface for the system which consists of an Arduino and an LCD shield with buttons to help the user navigate through the data collection process. The work performed by the students in this course constitutes a portion of the overall project, shared with third-year ECE students as well as Chemistry students at the University. While much of the design was ultimately the responsibility of key ECE and Chemistry faculty members, the designs were developed to serve as examples/case studies of the engineering design process as well as to provide opportunities for the students to practice their design skills and contribute to the project by testing design iterations and variations.
In this paper, we will discuss this project in detail, describing how this project allows the students to further develop the embedded system programming skills that they have developed in this course , and how the project is used to introduced more advanced electrical engineering concepts. Following the presentation of the project details, a discussion of student attitudes and lessons learned from multiple project executions will be presented. The discussion will explore the impacts on student commitment, effort, and performance.
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 Hoit, M. and Ohland M.W., “The Impact of a Discipline-Based Introduction to Engineering Course on Improving Retention,” Journal of Engineering Education, Vol. 87, No. 1, 1998, pp. 79–85.
 Bernold, L.E., Spurlin, J.E. and Anson, C.M., “Understanding Our Students: A Longitudinal-Study of Success and Failure in Engineering With Implications for Increased Retention,” Journal of Engineering Education, 96: 263-274.
 Johri, A. and Olds, B.M., “Situated Engineering Learning: Bridging Engineering Education Research and the Learning Sciences,” Journal of Engineering Education, 100: 151-185.
 Cross, M. and Feinauer, D., “Embedding Core Skills in First-Year Engineering Students with Applications in Embedded System Design,” 2018 FYEE Conference: Glassboro, NJ, July 2018
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