How do you teach the MTV generation? Students entering college today are used to television remote controls, computer games, and Web browsers, all of which allow them to switch content at will. Their short attention spans, lowered tolerance for boredom, and aversion to static media all challenge educators to provide information in dynamic, compelling, and interactive ways.
Older students, a growing campus population, pose another challenge. Often juggling work, family, and school commitments, this group requires flexible course delivery methods and scheduling.
Multimedia helps instructors meet the needs of bothgroups and, at the same time, helps instructors integrate modeling, visualization, and decision-making processes associated with real-world applications. By combining learning technologies such as virtual simulations, Web-based environments, and interactive materials, educators can deliver information in shorter and more intense cycles葉he best method to grab and hold the attention of today's demanding students.
Incorporating Multimedia in Your Classes
Keep the "Multi" in Your Multimedia
Developed by the Academy, Twanger allows students to adjust the virtual circuitry and then play the cyberstrings to hear the effects of the alterations. By both seeing and hearing how an amplifier increases the input signal's amplitude and volume, users gain a better understanding of circuit operation. To make the exercise even more interesting, I play a real electric guitar in class to generate the notes for the circuit under consideration.
Give Students a Chance to Explore
For example, in the simulated amplifier module, students discover Ohm's Law by adjusting circuit components and measuring the voltage and current at different places on the circuit. Students can actually hear the differences in sound performance resulting from their adjustments, encouraging them to experiment and to ask and answer "what if" types of questions. Exercises like these help develop the problem-solving and design skills that are such a valuable component of an engineering education.
Allow for Learning on Demand
Involve Students in the Development
In the process, student participants gain valuable and marketable skills. There are tremendous opportunities for graduates who can combine their grasp of science and engineering principles with creative skills to represent physical processes in virtual multimedia simulations and models.
RPI has successfully pioneered this approach in introductory science courses and is now revising the electrical engineering curriculum, the first studio implementation in a discipline-specific engineering program. In these classes, teachers have introduced the use of our Web-based ILMs. RPI began using this model in both circuit analysis and analog electronics courses in 1996 and the instructors are extremely pleased with the results.
A studio class session is broken into five or six separate activities so students can switch gears every 20 to 30 minutes to maintain interest and motivation. Activities include mini-lectures (no more than 15 to 20 minutes), pencil and paper exercises, ILM activities, design, simulation, circuit construction, and experimental measurements.
In a typical class, an instructor briefly explains a concept用erhaps the operation of an electronic sound mixer, which combines the sounds from the different instruments and voices in a rock band for recording or concerts. The instructor then asks the students to run through a simulation module. Swiveling their chairs to face tables behind them with multimedia-capable personal computers and an array of electronic equipment, students work through an ILM that shows them step-by-step pictures of the circuit's operation. Once the students have explored the module, the instructor asks them to assemble their own circuit.
Students clearly consider the ILMs an exciting, fun alternative to traditional paper-and-pencil problems, and enjoy exploring concepts in the context of real-life applications. Initial assessment results indicate that student satisfaction and achievement levels are quite high. Because students work at their own pace, more capable students can progress further in the same amount of time.
Although students are not yet required to use the ILMs outside of class, faculty members encourage them to do so to further their understanding and practice. Outside-of-class use is high, as measured by the levels of activity on our servers, but the effect of this on their learning has yet to be specifically documented.
The early results of the combined ILM/studio approach has been so encouraging that the faculty has voted to move six additional introductory courses to this format, eliminating several required laboratory courses. RPI is completely renovating the classrooms needed to teach eight one-semester courses謡ith typical enrollment of 80 to 150 each擁n this format.
Although the program has made significant progress, in many ways the Academy is just getting started in multimedia development work. Current ILMs need to be embellished and new ones that focus on the design of cutting-edge products (e.g., very high frequency clock signals on a computer motherboard) must be developed. As part of this, the Academy will add design-for-manufacturing considerations to the Electrical Engineering Handbook to give users a better sense of the limitations that production considerations place upon the development of electronics.
An increasing number of companies are putting together teams that span great distances and multiple time zones using project Web sites. Educators need to further explore the potential for collaborative multimedia across the Web, to prepare students for this trend. RPI is researching the potential for collaborative ILMs across the Web. In addition, the promise of real-time, fully rendered, three-dimensional virtual reality being available on affordable systems offers an even greater opportunity for engineers and scientists to collaboratively explore the unknown.
Most important, educators need to ensure that multimedia in engineering education is a true augmentation of what is provided by books, lectures, and hands-on experiences rather than repackaged versions of what already exists. By using dynamic, interactive modules that keep students' brains in constant motion, engineering educators will be better able to keep the wired generation still in their seats long enough to teach them what they need to know.
Don Lewis Millard is director of the Center for Integrated Electronics, Electronics Manufacturing, and Electronic Media and director of the Academy of Electronic Media Development and Utilization at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.______________________________________________
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