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Active Learning with Writing, Experimenting, and Simulation

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With their grant, Marlin Mickle, Electrical Engineering, and Michael Spring, Information Sciences, will create Active Learning with Writing, Experimenting, and Simulation (ALWES), a project to develop learning materials on wireless networks and radio frequency identification systems. The rapidly developing technology of wireless communication makes it virtually impossible for textbook publishers to remain current. In fact, Spring estimates “20 to 30 percent of my course content changes each term.” Although, faculty committed to “fast footwork” can keep pace, there are usually no corresponding, current textbooks. This project will demonstrate a model for developing materials that can be used not only to enhance student learning but also to address this lag between evolving technology and textbook publication.

The project has two major components—writing and laboratory simulations. Students convert their notes into documents that are posted in CASCADE collaborative software, which was developed by Spring. Through tracking changes, faculty, teaching assistants, and students provide ongoing feedback regarding both the grammar and content of the documents. Project director Mickle explains, “I believe that students have a better understanding of material when they can explain it to someone else. And these documents become extremely valuable as students use them in the open book course exams.”

The project also benefits students as they conduct and monitor virtual laboratory experiments using the Internet. For example, through a remote command, radio frequency tags can be scanned at a range of selected rates. The reader output screen remotely displays images over the Internet for students to read at any time and from any place. This interface enables a wide variety of experiments to be controlled and observed using the high-demand laboratory equipment.

Mickle and Spring agree that the interdisciplinary collaboration is critical—the electrical engineering students build sensor devices with identification chips and the information sciences students develop the software required to read the devices. As a result, these students will be well prepared for a future involving wireless networks that provide access, track products, time sporting events, or perform yet unimagined functions.


SEPTEMBER 2004

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