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Developing Multimedia Case Studies for Engineering Curriculum

Nizar Al-Holou, Senior Member IEEE, and Faroog Ibrahim

Abstract- Students, especially non-electrical engineering majors, have difficulty understanding the Principles of Electrical Engineering course. Moreover, instructors have difficulties motivating students and helping them to understand what is happening inside electric circuits/systems. The reasons for these difficulties are four-fold.  First, non-EE majors do not consider this course to be related to their curriculum, since it is from another department.  Second, it is difficult for them to visualize how the electric circuits/systems behave. Third, most of the books do not cover real-world case studies.  Finally, instructors do not relate the electrical systems to other mechanical and/or hydraulic systems. To overcome these difficulties, we have developed computer-based instruction (CBI) with real-world case studies. Every module in the curriculum has a few case studies that are based on the concepts covered in the same module as well as previous modules. Animation, which helps students visualize the dynamic behavior of the circuit, is used extensively in the curriculum. Many case studies have been introduced in the curriculum. The two case studies  presented in this paper are power supply and the electric vehicle. Each case study integrates the concepts already covered in the module. As a result, these case studies enhance the students' understanding of the concepts covered in the curriculum. Moreover, these case studies will encourage students to engage in creativity, design processes, and troubleshooting electromechanical systems that they use at home and work. The other objective of real-world case studies is to motivate students to learn the material and apply it in other courses and their work.

I. Introduction

American industry faces stiff competition in today's global world economy. As competition increases, manufacturers search for ways to produce more at a lower cost with higher quality. Few would disagree that the long-term key to improving productivity is education. However, engineering education faces challenges, such as rising costs, reduced operating budget, over-utilized resources, and increased competition for a declining student pool. Many studies have documented that traditional classroom teaching is not the best approach for teaching college students [1, 2, 3, 4]. Moreover, there are difficulties associated with using the traditional classroom system for non-traditional students. Such difficulties include traveling distance between the work place and the university, interruption of work schedules, and difficulty presenting the latest information and technology. Therefore, a new innovative teaching pedagogy is needed.

As a result, government, industry, and educational institutions have started searching for innovative ways to improve education. For example, educational institutions have started their own initiatives to enhance student learning [5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11]. American industry has initiated cooperation with universities to build modular educational programs that allow employees to continue their education and thus increase the company's competitive edge. The National Science Foundation has funded a few coalitions around the country, such as Greenfield, NEEDS, Gateway, ECSEL, Foundation, The Academy, SCCEME, SUCCEED, and Synthesis to evaluate a new teaching pedagogy and to develop, disseminate, and bring high-quality curriculum for traditional and non-traditional students [12]. The Greenfield Coalition has taken the challenge to develop and bring "multimedia"-enhanced (the computer-enabled combination of text, video, and sound) courseware into the classroom. The mission of the Greenfield Coalition is to develop a new paradigm in manufacturing engineering/technology education, take the education experiences to the workplace, and integrate experiential learning with academic studies. Greenfield Coalition curriculum has been divided into different knowledge areas, such as Electroscience, Mechnophysics, Thermophysics, etc [13].

The electroscience curriculum serves candidates in three degree programs (AS, BE, and BET). This presents unique challenges that have been addressed throughout the project (planning, developing, and delivery). The curriculum provides five credit hours. Three credit hours are common for all degrees (AS, BE, and BET), one credit hour for engineering and engineering technology (BE and BET) students, and one credit for engineering (BE) students only. Moreover, the curriculum incorporates real-world case studies, particularly from Focus:HOPE's Center for Advanced Technology (CAT). The last and most difficult challenge is to develop the curriculum so that computer-based instruction (CBI) is the main source of instruction for candidates.

II. Computer Based Instruction (CBI)

One of the most essential factors in a student's academic success is his/her desire to learn. This desire can be enhanced by presenting the course material in an attractive manner that encourages students to learn more. For example, combining text, sound, graphics, and motion to animate technical concepts helps students understand the main concepts and enables learners to do far more than read or listen [14]. Furthermore, including the use of real-world applications based on the curriculum concepts creates an important link between theory and reality. A well-implemented multimedia curriculum is proven to be an effective tool in education especially technical education. Such a curriculum is capable of holding students' attention and encouraging their involvement  [15].

To present course material in a more attractive manner that enhances the students' understanding, we have developed such a multimedia curriculum, a CBI curriculum, that also includes several real-world case studies [16]. The selected case studies represent devices/systems which students use in their daily life.  The CBI curriculum has been developed using Macromedia's Authorware 3.5. Macromedia's Authorware software provides the ability to include full-motion video, animation, audio, hypertext, and active user instruction [17]. The curriculum is divided into eight modules. Each module is like a chapter in a textbook and is divided into topics. At the end of each module, there are summaries, examples, case studies, and on-line quizzes. This paper will review two case studies with animation to illustrate the concepts and theory covered in the CBI curriculum.

III. Case Studies

Case studies are introduced at the end of each CBI module to apply the  theory and concepts covered in that  module. Animation is used to enhance the understanding of  the functions of the case study. The introduction and analysis of each case study occurs as follows: (1) introduce the principles of the case study; (2) introduce the function of the case study; (3) anaylze the block diagram and/or schematic of the device using the concepts covered in the module; (4) animate the behavior of the device to improve the students' understanding and to help visualize the device's functionality. The curriculum introduces many real-world case studies such as motion detector, electric heater, car ignition system, security alarm system, power supply, modem, telephone handset, smoke detectors, electric vehicle, and air conditioner controller. For this paper, we have selected two case studies: power supply and electric vehicle.

Power Supply

A power supply is one of the most commonly used circuits. However, its design is only briefly discussed in the undergraduate curriculum. Moreover, most textbooks do not cover the design of power supplies in detail [18]. The principle of a power supply depends on the rectification feature of the diode, the filtering feature of the capacitor and the regulation characteristics of a Zener diode. The circuit of the power supply is a combination of a full-wave rectifier, filter, and a Zener voltage regulator.

The function of the power supply is to convert the alternating (AC) source input to a constant DC source output. The output of the power supply must be independent of the variations in load and input source; i.e., the output voltage should be constant even if the load and the source are fluctuating.

Electric Vehicle

Some states, such as California, require auto makers to produce and sell some electric vehicles to reduce pollution. In the electric vehicles, the engine is replaced by an electrical motor that is driven by very sophisticated electronics and rechargeable batteries. The battery provides enough energy to drive the motor between charges. The electronics in the electric vehicle can be divided into the following main subsystems:


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The project has been funded by NSF/Greenfield Coalition. The author would like to acknowledge help received from students associated with this project and thank them for participation in this project: Emad Shamroukh, and Stephen Wire.

Authors Contact Information

Nizar Al-Holou
Electrical and Computer Engineering
University of Detroit Mercy
4001 W. McNichols Rd.
Detroit, MI 48219-0900
Phone: 313-993-3384
Fax: 313-993-1187

Faroog Ibrahim
Electrical and Computer Engineering
University of Detroit Mercy
4001 W. McNichols Rd.
Detroit, MI 48219-0900
Phone: 313-993-3373
Fax: 313-993-1187


Nizar Al-Holou is an Associate Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the University of Detroit Mercy, Detroit, Michigan. He received his Bachelor Degree from Damascus University, the Master of Science from Ohio State University, Columbus, OH, and the Ph.D. from the University of Dayton, all in Electrical Engineering. Dr. Al-Holou teaches courses on Digital Logic, Microprocessors, Computer Architecture, and Electrical Circuits.  His area of expertise is in Digital Systems, Microprocessors, Computer Based Instruction, and Computer Architecture.  He has published in the areas of Parallel Processing and Computer-Based Instruction.  He joined the faculty at UDM in 1992. His professional activities include serving on the board for IEEE/SEM, ASEE/NCS, and YUFORIC. He has served as Chairman and Vice Chair of the Computer Chapter for the Southeastern Michigan Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE) Section since July 1994. He has served as the ASEE-NCS Conference Chair.

Faroog Ibrahim is a doctoral student in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, University of Detroit Mercy. He holds the Bachelor of Engineeering Degree and a Master of Science from Jordan University of Science and Technology, Irbid, Jordan.