Best practices and examples
Here you will be able to find described best practices using E2LP board and its extension components.
1. Formative evaluation of the course Digital System Design for Mechatronics at BGU – Case Study
1.1 About the course – rationale and objectives for this case study
Engineering today is an interdisciplinary field. Most modern technological systems, for example, printers, cars or robots, integrate components and knowledge from a range of engineering areas such as mechanics, electronics, materials and computers. Consequently, an engineer specializing in a specific field must also acquire basic knowledge in other close areas.
The Embedded Engineering Learning Platform (E2LP) project has developed an innovative low cost learning environment for computer and embedded engineering (Kastekan et al., 2013). At the heart of the platform lies the FPGA device (Spartan 6) from Xilinx ISE. The VHDL language is used for programming the FPGA device.
The original E2LP project assimilation program was designed to include three universities within the consortium – FTN, FER and IMTEK, all of them teaching computer and embedded engineering. However, the E2LP innovative platform is certainly relevant for teaching and learning concepts in subjects such as digital systems, control systems, communication systems and digital signal analysis to students in a range of engineering fields, for example electrical engineering or mechanical engineering. This is the rationale behind the present study, whereby the E2LP platform was introduced into a course on digital systems design for mechanical engineering students at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU). The study was guided by the following questions:
- To what extent could mechatronics students, having no prior knowledge in digital systems, learn this subject using the E2LP platform?
- What are the factors that influence the students' motivation and success in learning the course?
Answering these questions could help in expanding the use of the E2LP platform in other related fields of engineering education.
The conceptual framework for evaluation in the E2LP project is the Self-Regulated Learning (SRL) theory (Boekaerts, 1999; Bandura, 1997) that includes the following main categories:
- Problem solving
- Usefulness (task value)
- Awareness to learning
- Planning of learning (control)
- Reflection on learning
The categories of the SRL theory were used as the basis for the questionnaire and the interviews carried out in this study, as presented in the following sections.
The course "Digital systems design for mechatronics” was offered to graduate students (studying for a master's degree) in mechanical engineering at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. This is an elective course, given for the first time, and six students have chosen to take it. The course comprises laboratory work only (no lectures). Learning digital systems design using the E2LP platform involved six sessions of three academic hours each, held in the second half of the spring semester.
Following are the subjects of the experiments the students dealt with:
Experiment 1: Digital Logic Circuits & VHDL Gate-Level Design
Experiment 2: Combinational Circuits
Experiment 3: Problem Set: Multiplexing Adders
Experiment 4: Sequential Systems
Experiment 5: Problem Set: Stopwatch
Experiment 6: Finite State Machine
Experiment 7: Pulse Width Modulation (PWM)
Experiment 8: Closed-loop DC Motor Control by an Encoder Sensor and PWM Control Command
Experiments 1- 6 in the above list were taken from the E2LP experiments inventory developed by the consortium. Among them, experiments 1, 2, 4 and 6 were defined as basic exercises, and experiments 3 and 5 as problem solving exercises. Experiments 7-8 were developed by the course lecturer and evaluation team at BGU. These experiments, which are quite close to projects according to the Task Taxonomy adopted by E2LP, will be added to the E2LP experiments inventory later.
Figures 17-1 – 17-3 illustrates some of the experiments schemes and devices handled by the students during the course. In experiments 7 and 8, the E2LP board was connected to the following devices: VNH3SP30 Motor Driver Carrier MD01B, DC motor, power supply and oscilloscope. This is a significant change in comparison to experiments 1-6, in which the inputs and outputs are just switches and LEDs installed on the E2LP board.
BGU received the E2LP board about two months before the course started. A research assistant – an MA student from the Department of Science and Technology Education at BGU, and a technical assistant – a BSc student in computer engineering from another institute, helped in preparing the boards for the lab work. They installed the software on the computers and dealt with the technical problems and bugs in the system before the boards could be used by the students. They also checked the lab exercises and projects for the students, developed experiments 7 and 8 mentioned above, and attended all of the class sessions. The technical assistant helped the students in the course in software and hardware matters, and the research assistant collected all the data for the course evaluation, as described in the following sections.
Figure 17-1: Experiment 1 – basic digital circuit
Figure 17-2: Experiment 3 – four-bit full adder
Figure 17-3 Experiment 7 – closed-loop control of a DC Motor by PWM