Massive open online laboratories? Ongoing work with microelectronics experiments performed outside of the traditional laboratory
With the advent of open source hardware and software, students are able to perform advanced microelectronic experiments outside of the laboratory setting using low-cost components and equipment. Offering experiments outside of a traditional lab accommodates distance-learning as well as large class sizes. Many authors have addressed comparisons of in-lab laboratories with ones completed virtually or remotely,1,2 however much less has been studied regarding the use of actual, physical laboratories by students at home or in their dormitory rooms outside of the traditional laboratory.3,4 To respond to and leverage technological advancements in portable test and measurement equipment, several student-accessible electronics hardware platforms were considered including the NI myDAQ, Arduino development board, TI LaunchPad, BitScope, Analog Discovery, and a Creative Soundblaster USB Audio System. Ultimately, an initial pilot study with 14 students was conducted in a summer microelectronics course using the NI myDAQ. This, along with high-quality instructional videos, allowed students to complete experiments on their own outside of the laboratory setting. In this study, two of the later course hardware exercises - multi-stage amplifier and op-amp amplifier - were offered to half of the class as labs to be completed outside of the traditional laboratory. Independent validation of the experiment using randomized, multi-stage testing was performed and its effectiveness queried using in-person laboratory observations, instructor discussions, a post-laboratory survey, and student laboratory report assessment. Recommendations for implementing out-of-lab student experiments include anticipating hardware failure, encouraging student collaboration, and providing live TA assistance. As a result of the pilot work, additional laboratory offerings using these recommendations as well as explored alternative hardware solutions are being pursued.