Towards a framework for the design and development of a system for practical education in electrical engineering

Oosthuizen, Pieter Cornelius (2015-12)

Thesis (MSc)--Stellenbosch University, 2015.

Thesis

ENGLISH ABSTRACT: How to educate undergraduate students in the practical aspects of engineering is a complex problem. To address it requires both a technical solution (referring to the equipment itself) as well as a study of education theory. The ability to apply learned scienti c knowledge in a practical way is a key tenet of engineering. Experiments are one of the principle ways whereby students learn to consolidate theory and practice. Practicals provide university students with experimenting opportunities which help to cement their theoretical knowledge as well as allowing them to gain experience working with real-world systems. However, if the equipment and systems in the laboratories are not well designed, or not designed for educational purposes, then the student becomes overwhelmed by it. In the end they learn how to use the experimental set-up itself, rather than what they are supposed to investigate with it. When we developed new practical assignments for a nal year module, we realised that the current equipment was indeed failing the students. To address this we rst considered the use of commercially available solutions. But the equipment was not able to meet our requirements | mainly because the equipment was not designed for the education environment, had proprietary interfaces and was expensive. We then set about investigating the possibility of designing a new system for engineering practical education that could better address the requirements of the laboratory, as well as overcome the limitations of the commercial equipment. We soon realised the complexity of such a proposal. Its successful execution would require a knowledge of engineering as well as of many other elds. Such a development would also require a detailed knowledge of the institution where the system is to be developed and used. But most signi cantly, the project is simply too complex for a single researcher or research group to complete alone; and nor should they. This system can have a very positive impact on both practical teaching as well as general research development, and it is only by sharing ownership that the project will progress beyond the most basic system. To realise such a large shared project, and to make it sustainable, requires a detailed development framework | that would consolidate all the various requirements, provide a clear development road map and award researchers the freedom to innovate. This exploratory study is aimed at the development of such a framework. We start by investigating current literature surrounding engineering education and laboratory systems development. We consider the current state of practical engineering at our university. (Our proposed method can also be used for other studies like this.) Furthermore, we advocate the continued development of engineering education research, presenting this study as a starting point to introduce the eld to engineering researchers. To develop requirements for the equipment itself, as well as to understand the limitations and challenges of its development, we designed three prototypes. We used solar photovoltaic practicals as an example case to limit the scope of the prototypes and help focus our endeavours. Since this is an exploratory study there is a lot of potential for future research. However, we feel that development of the framework itself should take priority as it is the key towards opening development to the broader academic community.

AFRIKAANSE OPSOMMING: Hoe om voorgraadse studente in die praktiese aspekte van ingenieurswese op te lei, bly 'n komplekse probleem. Om dit aan te spreek, vereis 'n tegniese oplossing (verwysende na die toerusting self) asook 'n studie van die onderrigsteorie. Die vermoëe om akademiese wetenskapskennis prakties toe te pas, is 'n kernbeginsel van ingenieurswese. Eksperimente tel onder die belangrikste maniere waardeur studente leer om teorie en praktyk bymekaar te bring. Praktiese klasse help universiteitstudente om te eksperimenteer, hul teoretiese kennis so te bevestig en ervaring van sisteme in die regte w^ereld te kry. Word laboratoriumtoerusting en -sisteme egter swak ontwerp, of nie vir onderrigdoeleindes ontwerp nie, oorweldig dit die studente. Hulle leer uiteindelik hoe om 'n eksperimentele opstelling te gebruik eerder as om ervaring te verkry oor wát hulle met die opstelling moes ondersoek. Met die opstel van nuwe praktiese opdragte vir 'n finalejaar-module het ons besef die huidige toerusting laat studente inderdaad in die steek. Daarom het ons eers kommersieel beskikbare toerusting oorweeg, maar dit kon nie aan ons vereistes voldoen nie - hoofsaaklik omdat die toerusting nie vir die onderrigomgewing ontwerp was nie, eiendomsmatige koppelvlakke gehad het en te duur was. Ons het toe die moontlikheid van 'n nuut ontwerpte sisteem vir praktiese ingenieursonderrig ondersoek, wat beter sou voldoen aan die laboratoriumvereistes en die kommersieel beskikbare toerusting se beperkings kon oorkom. Ons het egter gou besef hoe kompleks so 'n voorstel is. Om dit suksesvol uit te voer, is kennis van ingenieurswese, én vele ander velde, nodig asook 'n diepgaande kennis van die instelling waar die stelsel ontwikkel en gebruik word. Maar, die belangrikste, is dat so 'n projek bloot te kompleks is om deur een navorser of 'n navorsingspan alleen voltooi te word, en dít moet ook nie gebeur nie. Dié sisteem kan op praktiese onderrig asook navorsingsontwikkeling 'n sterk positiewe invloed hê, en slegs deur die projek se eienaarskap te deel, sal dit verder vorder as net die mees basiese stelsel. Om so 'n omvattende, gedeelde projek te laat realiseer, en volhoubaar te maak, verg 'n gedetailleerde ontwikkelingsraamwerk - wat die verskeie vereistes sal konsolideer, sodoende duidelik rigting gee aan die ontwikkeling, en terselfdertyd vir navorsers die vryheid bied om te innoveer. Hierdie verkennende studie is onderneem om so 'n raamwerk te ontwikkel. Ons begin met 'n ondersoek na die huidige literatuur oor ingenieursonderrig asook die ontwikkeling van sisteme vir laboratoriumgebruik. Die huidige stand van praktiese ingenieurswese by ons universiteit kom onder die soeklig. (Ons voorgestelde metode kan ook in soortgelyke studies gebruik word). Verder probeer bevorder ons hiermee volgehoue navorsingsontwikkeling oor ingenieursonderrig, as 'n beginpunt om hierdie navorsingsveld aan ingenieursnavorsers bekend te stel. Om die toerusting se vereistes te ontwikkel, én die beperkings en uitdagings van sodanige ontwikkeling te verstaan, het ons drie prototipes ontwerp. Praktiese klasse oor fotovoltaïse sonkragstelsels is gebruik om die prototipes se omvang te beperk en ons pogings te fokus. Omdat hierdie studie verkennend is, bevat dit baie moontlikhede vir toekomstige navorsingsaansluiting. Ons meen egter die raamwerk self se ontwikkeling moet voorrang geniet, want dit is die sleutel wat ontwikkeling onder die brëer akademiese gemeenskap kan ontsluit.

Please refer to this item in SUNScholar by using the following persistent URL: http://hdl.handle.net/10019.1/98022
This item appears in the following collections: