Paper ID #7365
Collaborative Research: Center for Mobile Hands-On STEM
Prof. Kenneth A Connor, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
Kenneth Connor is a professor in the Department of Electrical, Computer, and Systems Engineering where
he teaches courses on plasma physics, electromagnetics, electronics and instrumentation, electric power,
and general engineering. His research involves plasma physics, electromagnetics, photonics, engineering
education, diversity in the engineering workforce, and technology enhanced learning. Since joining the
Rensselaer faculty in 1974, he has been continuously involved in research programs at such places as Oak
Ridge National Laboratory and the Universities of Texas and Wisconsin in the U.S., Kyoto and Nagoya
Universities in Japan, the Ioffe Institute in Russia, and Kharkov Institute of Physics and Technology
in Ukraine. He was ECSE Department Head from 2001 to 2008 and served on the board of the ECE
Department Heads Association from 2003 to 2008. He is presently the Education Director for the SMART
LIGHTING NSF ERC.
Dr. Kathleen Meehan, Virginia Tech
Dr. Kathleen Meehan is presently an associate professor in the Bradley Department of Electrical and
Computer Engineering at Virginia Tech. Her previous academic positions were at at the University of
Denver and West Virginia University. Prior to moving in academia, she was employed at Lytel, Inc.,
Polaroid Corporation, and Biocontrol Technology. She received her B.S.E.E. from Manhattan College
and her M.S. and Ph.D. from the University of Illinois-Urbana/Champaign under the direction of Prof.
Nick Holonyak, Jr. Her areas of research include design of optoelectronic materials, devices, and systems;
optical spectroscopy; high heat load packaging; and electrical engineering pedagogy.
Dr. Bonnie Ferri, Georgia Institute of Technology
Dr. Bonnie Ferri is a professor and associate chair for Undergraduate Affairs in the School of Electrical
and Computer Engineering at Georgia Tech. She received her B.S. in Electrical Engineering from Notre
Dame, her M.S. in MAE from Princeton and her Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering from Georgia Tech.
She spent two years working for Honeywell, Inc. as a controls engineer. She spent ten years working
on hands-on education and has won several awards including the Harriet B. Rigas Award from the IEEE
Dr. Dianna Newman
Mohamed Chouikha is a Professor and Chair of the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering
at Howard University. He received his MS and PhD in Electrical Engineering from the University of
Colorado – Boulder. Dr. Chouikha’s research interests include, among other areas, machine learning, in-
telligent control, and multimedia signal processing communications for secure networks. He also focuses
on enhancing recruitment and retention of underrepresented minorities in the STEM areas in general,
engineering in particular. Dr. Bonnie Ferri, Georgia Institute of Technology Bonnie Ferri is a Professor
and Associate Chair for Undergraduate Affairs in the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering at
Georgia Tech. She received her BS in EE from Notre Dame, her MS in MAE from Princeton and her PhD
in EE from Georgia Tech. She spent two years working for Honeywell, Inc. as a controls engineer. She
spent 10 years working on hands-on education and has won several awards including the Harriet B. Rigas
Award from the IEEE Education Society.
Dr. Yacob Astatke, Morgan State University
Dr. Yacob Astatke completed both his Doctor of Engineering and B.S.E.E. degrees from Morgan State
University (MSU) and his M.S.E.E. from Johns Hopkins University. He has been a full time faculty
member in the Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE) department at MSU since August 1994 and
currently serves as the associate chair for Undergraduate Studies. Dr. Astatke is the winner of the 2012-
2013 American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE) Mid-Atlantic Region Distinguished Teacher
c ?American Society for Engineering Education, 2013
Paper ID #7365
Award. He teaches courses in both analog and digital electronic circuit design and instrumentation, with a
focus on wireless communication. He has more than fifteen years experience in the development and de-
Dr. Astatke played a leading role in the development and implementation of the first completely online
undergraduate ECE program in the state of Maryland. He has published over 40 papers and presented his
research work at regional, national and international conferences. He also runs several exciting summer
camps geared towards middle school, high school, and community college students to expose and increase
their interest in pursuing Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) fields. Dr. Astatke
travels to Ethiopia every summer to provide training and guest lectures related to the use of the mobile
laboratory technology and pedagogy to enhance the ECE curriculum at five different universities.
Dr. Mohamed F. Chouikha, Howard University
Dr. Mohamed Chouikha is a professor and chair of the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineer-
ing at Howard University. He received his M.S. and Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering from the University
of Colorado–Boulder. Dr. Chouikha’s research interests include machine learning, intelligent control, and
multimedia signal processing communications for secure networks, among other areas. He also focuses
on enhancing recruitment and retention of underrepresented minorities in the STEM areas in general,
engineering in particular.
Dr. Deborah Walter, Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology
Dr. Deborah Walter is an associate professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Rose-Hulman
Institute of Technology. She teaches courses in circuits, electromagnetics, and medical imaging. Before
joining academia in 2006, she was at the Computed Tomography Laboratory at GE’s Global Research
Center for eight years. She worked on several technology development projects in the area of X-ray CT
for medical and industrial imaging. She is a named inventor on nine patents. She has been active in the
recruitment and retention of women and minorities in engineering and currently PI for an NSF-STEM
grant to improve diversity at Rose-Hulman.
c ?American Society for Engineering Education, 2013
Collaborative Research: Center for Mobile Hands-On STEM
Vision and Goals of the Center for Hands-On STEM
Hands-on activities are an essential part of the learning experience for STEM students to
demonstrate theoretical concepts in practice and to connect students with the experimental
component of our STEM disciplines. Historically, these activities were relegated to structured
experiments conducted during formal lab courses in limited access, centralized laboratories
utilizing expensive equipment and requiring extensive support infrastructure. In recent years, the
ready availability of portable, low-cost, experimental platforms (e.g. standalone systems like
LEGO NXT kits and electronic measurement systems that connect to laptops through USB ports
like the Analog Discovery design kit from Digilent and the myDAQ data acquisition device from
National Instruments) is making it possible to fundamentally change the educational experience
we can deliver to our students. These new tools can help create a ubiquitous hands-on learning
environment anywhere and anytime: at desks in a traditional classroom, in a dorm room, in a
study group setting, at a coffee shop, etc. These small, mobile experiments allow for a new
pedagogical model that opens new avenues for inquiry-based learning of fundamental concepts,
experimental concepts and skills, and give students experience in system level design and
Imagine mobile hands-on learning activities that involve both
the student and the faculty member in the learning process
without considerable time or effort by the instructor. And,
suppose that there are freely available resources to assist a
faculty member, educated under the old lecture system, to
introduce hands-on learning modules and rapidly develop his
or her own modules using validated procedures. Now, let’s
consider what would happen if this pedagogical approach is
integrated throughout a STEM curriculum so that students see
how concepts from one course can be applied in other course
to build a system-level understanding of their discipline. Suddenly, we have STEM graduates
who know, and appreciate, the complexities of their discipline and who are able go out into the
workforce and immediately contribute to product development. Perhaps, a larger percentage of
U.S. STEM students will decide to pursue advance degrees
and, with the holistic systems-level knowledge gained
from hands-on learning, help to sustain and further the
Nation’s technological and economic leadership and
increase the well-being of all. This is the vision that drives
the center – the challenge to provide the next generation of
STEM professionals with the skill set and motivation
needed so that they remain in the field, retain a creative
and innovative spirit, and participate in the advancements
in STEM and STEM education.
Different constituencies benefit from this new mobile hands-on approach to learning:
Students have the tools immediately available to solve problems on design projects, to
participate in design competitions, and to just tinker and follow their own creativity to new areas
of discovery. They also bring a more engaged attitude to class and find learning concepts with
the mobile equipment to be easier and more accessible than with traditional, high-cost, limited-
access and intimidating lab equipment. Students get accustomed to the tools and become
comfortable doing things on their own. Online and distance learning students have equal access
to hands-on activities as do on-campus students.
Instructors have a new way to facilitate inquiry-based learning through hands-on activities.
They can develop course content anywhere and anytime; new ideas for labs, activities, and
projects can be easily tried out at home rather than waiting until lab classrooms and technical
staff are available. With minimal resources, teachers can easily integrate mobile hands-on
activities into their courses, even non-STEM classes, with the result that a wide range of students
will be exposed to STEM concepts and be shown how STEM impacts all aspects of life. This
process can re-invigorate the instructor’s love for teaching.
Institutions will have new options for incorporating practical lab experiences into their
curriculum without the need for expensive equipment and dedicated lab space since students own
their own equipment. The cost of Mobile Hands-On STEM experiments can be so low that most
financial barriers disappear. Disciplines that have traditionally not had any technological
component now can add this critical aspect and address real-world problems and applications in
exciting areas like biomedical and environmental sensing.
Non-Governmental Organizations that offer successful K-12 STEM activities like FIRST
Robotics can now afford the tools to make electrical and computer components equal in value
and accessibility to the mechanical and structural components in the eyes of the participants. As
the cost of hardware continues to decrease, opportunities abound for informal learning in all
disciplines using mobile hardware. Stand-alone kits that utilize low-cost mobile hardware and
software can be designed and made available to the Boys and Girls Clubs, Girl Scouts, and other
groups to engage all children in STEM activities.
Mobile Hands-On STEM (MOHS) has been implemented and studied in three NSF funded
projects: The Mobile Studio Project (RPI, Howard, Rose-Hulman, U Albany); Lab-in-a-Box
(Virginia Tech); and TESSAL (Georgia Tech). Application of MOHS pedagogy has expanded at
all partner institutions and been successfully transferred to other institutions in the US (e.g.
Wisconsin-Madison, Boston University, Morgan State University, Virginia Western, Community
College of Rhode Island, etc.) and in other countries (e.g. Ethiopia, Cameroon). In all cases,
hands-on learning has been successfully implemented at low cost, with more engaged students
and instructors, and hands-on learning implemented in courses that were traditionally only theory
based. Although the development and spread of this exciting new approach to STEM education
argue for broad application, the documented case for its adoption is not yet at the stage where all
STEM educators can fully appreciate its merit. This is due, in part, to the characteristics of the
early adopters who tend to be curious and innovative about how students learn within their
content; at ease with the technology of electrical and computer engineering; well acquainted with
STEM educational research, etc. As a result, the most effective approach to STEM education is
still in question in the broader community and best practice methods of dissemination of MOHS
pedagogy to the entire STEM community have not yet been identified.
RPI, as the lead institution, along with Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech, University of Albany, Rose-
Hulman Institute of Technology, Howard University, and Morgan State University are pursuing
activities that support the following goals:
Gather strong evidence of the effectiveness of Mobile Hands-On STEM pedagogy on
Develop a pro-active dissemination strategy that will be effective with all of the
STEM educational community.
To achieve these goals, we are documenting the evidence already available on mobile hands-on
learning, identifying and standardizing the assessment tools utilized by the three main partners
(RPI, Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech), developing and implementing new assessment tools that
measure student learning as well as ease of adoption by instructors, holding a practitioners’ best
practices workshop for instructors who currently employ mobile hands-on education to build a
community of users to pool expertise, holding focus groups among different constituencies to
identify the barriers for wide-spread adoption and how these might be overcome, holding a series
of mini workshops to introduce mobile hands-on learning to instructors from these different
constituencies, and will pilot a full-scale workshop for new instructors to mobile hands-on
Over the next two years, the center will undertake the following tasks in support of these
1) Assemble Evidence of Student Learning from Mobile Hands-On Learning
Document our model of engineering pedagogy that builds on years of experimentation with
and without mobile platforms, which will include a review of what the MHOS team have
learned individually. Compile evidence of depth of learning, short- and long-term retention
that results from increased enthusiasm as a result of experiences in active learning,
confidence building in engineering skills particularly among underrepresented students, and
that engaging in active learning and having the equipment readily available stimulates
student creativity and inventiveness.
i. Perform a literature review of relevant information for and empirical evidence on efforts
in active hands-on learning. Connect what we have done with work from other
disciplines, especially demonstrating that the low-cost, highly accessible, mobile MOHS
approach can provide the same type of experiences described in the literature
ii. Integrate results from focus group/surveys/input from workshop of targeted faculty from
a cross-section of 2- and 4-year institutions, from a representative set of STEM
disciplines, and follow-on study
iii. Document the current evidence on the models and assessment in a highly visible journal
of pedagogy, which can be used to help convince engineering faculty members to adopt
iv. Document any open questions or missing evidence that will help engineering faculty
members to adopt hands-on learning.
v. Collect and share all high quality supporting information on the MOHS website and
provide opportunities for comment by any interested parties.
2) Develop and Implement New Assessment Tools
Initiate a comprehensive concept inventory (theory, practice, synthesis of ideas, and systems
integration) and develop assessment techniques that will document the depth of learning,
student motivation to participate in their chosen field, and degree of creativity/curiosity that
is stimulated by the pedagogy of active hands-on learning.
i. Develop a simple first-cut at a concept inventory for hands-on learning to assist new
adopters as they assess the efficacy of MOHS pedagogy.
ii. Tools developed by the U Albany Evaluation Consortium for the Mobile Studio Project
and the complementary Mobile Studio Project in Physics will be reviewed, adapted and
standardized so that the TESSAL and Lab-in-a-Box projects can be assessed in a
consistent manner allowing for integration of results from all existing MOHS projects. In
addition to addressing student learning, these tools also have also made it possible to
study and understand critical characteristics of instructional staff in the application of
iii. As new issues are identified, new assessment and evaluation tools will be developed and
or existing tools will be modified and applied; this will allow for the identification of
developmental patterns of implementation, areas for “just in time” instructional support
for faculty as well as students, and broader documentation of impact as the process and
products are disseminated across the STEM domain.
3) Determine Barriers and Best Practices to Wide-Spread Adoption
The center plans to utilize a large set of constituency groups from a diverse group of colleges
and high schools and STEM disciplines to identify barriers to wide-spread adoption for each
of the different groups (such as K-12 teachers, instructors and administrators from 4-year and
2-year higher level institutions including minority-serving schools). We also intend to pool
together expertise from these different groups to build best practices and universally accepted
templates for how to build mobile hands-on educational modules. We will perform three
activities in this task:
i. Host a Practitioner’s Workshop of faculty who are leading and fully invested in mobile
active learning efforts in 2- and 4-year institutions. The center is soliciting input from
faculty who are currently involved in hands-on/active learning to determine where and
how they have instituted active learning at their institution and to document what has
been developed thus far that has been shown to stimulate deeper learning, based on the
use of inexpensive tools to allow a larger community of students to participate. The goal
is to: (a) identify successful implementation models, and (b) develop a template for
implementation and rubric for assessment that can be disseminated to support adoption of
mobile active learning at other institutions.
1. Collect data during workshop on:
a. past and current barriers to adopt and sustain active learning in the
b. administrative support required to successfully implement hands-on
c. key areas within engineering curricula and within degree progress where
students gain significantly by engaging in active learning,
d. instructional materials needed to support independent hands-on learning,
e. missing elements, including equipment, that would support more wide
f. how the job of a faculty member, lecturer, laboratory instructor, GTA, etc.
changes with the use of hands-on learning, and
g. determine the audience that must be brought into the decision making
process when adopting active hands-on learning.
2. Follow-on focus group/interviews to build a library of case studies.
ii. Hold 10 focus group discussions among different contingencies geographically
distributed to determine the barriers and possible remedies for wide-spread adoption
among those groups. The focus groups would consist of instructors from 2 year colleges,
minority serving colleges, 4 year undergraduate institutions, 4-year institutions that have
strong research activities; department heads from a selection of universities; K-12
teachers and administrators.
4) Workshops on Mobile Hands-On STEM
The center will hold a series of workshops that concentrate not on getting the faculty to do
specific experiments but rather on working with faculty on ways in which they can engage
students in active hands-on learning at their institutions.
i. Develop materials for workshops on what mobile hands-on learning is and that provide
convincing evidence on the pedagogical advantages of mobile hands-on learning along
with evidence of ease of use by instructors and students alike as well as the low cost for
ii. Host 4 mini-workshops associated with conferences. We held a full-day workshop on
hands-on learning at the 2012 ASEE conference in San Antonio, TX. We plan to hold
two at the upcoming ASEE conferences, with several changes in approach based on
feedback from the previous workshop. Since much of the work in the mobile platforms
has been in the electrical and computing engineering fields, we plan to hold two
workshops at conferences that are outside of this discipline in order to expand the
influence of the topic. The likely conferences are a mechanical engineering conference
and a physics education conference.
iii. Hold a full-scale (2-day) workshop on Mobile Hands-On STEM that serves as a model
for future workshops. This workshop will incorporate all of the developed workshop
instructional materials, the results from the Practitioner’s Workshop, focus groups, and
all other collected and published information. .
iv. Conduct follow-on studies after each workshop to validate the workshop templates and to
review and refine the template for implementation.
The pedagogical ideas on which the center is based have been addressed by the three projects
listed above and have been the subject of many presentation in recent years, especially at this
conference. This effort continues during the present conference. The key papers, which also
contain many additional references are listed below.
Acknowledgment: This work supported under NSF DUE-1226114, 1226087, 1226065 and
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