The portability of systems-centric content to existing sub-discipline courses

Tom Weller, Jeff Frolik, Paul G. Flikkema, Wayne A. Shiroma, Carol Haden, Rhonda R. Franklin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


A multi-university, NSF CCLI collaboration has developed a series of on-line learning modules and experiential projects intended to elucidate complex, systems-oriented concepts in the context of wireless sensor networks (WSN). Together these modules and projects comprise the essential content of a complete undergraduate course on WSN. As it is often challenging to add new courses to existing degree programs, ease of portability of the developed material has been emphasized. The goal was to facilitate selective integration into existing curricula, thereby enhancing sub-discipline-specific courses with systems-centric learning. In this paper, the adoption of systems-oriented material from the WSN course into existing courses on RF/microwave theory and design at three institutions is described. One of the adopters was involved in the original development of the material, and two additional adopters were not. One of the adopting institutions modified a course on introductory microwave circuit design, which traditionally addressed topics such as transmission line theory, network theory and design techniques for various passive components including filters, matching networks and couplers. In the revised format, each topic is now covered in the context of satellite/cellular communications sub-system design and analysis. The on-line modules from the WSN course on system design concepts have been woven into the syllabus, and links between wireless sensor networks and communications networks are discussed. To accommodate the new material, less emphasis is placed on certain specific microwave components, which are often the subject of advanced courses. Early course assessment results indicate that the introductory systems-oriented material increases student interest in RF/microwave circuit design and improves understanding of how the performance of RF hardware impacts overall system performance. Instructor feedback indicates that the modules are effective in giving students a different and broader perspective on course content and in enhancing the systems thinking emphasis in their existing courses. In another implementation, the WSN course material was used to supplement an introductory course on RF systems for undergraduates. The material provided an alternative viewpoint on RF components used in system design and exposure to advanced RF technologies, such as RF MEMS used as switches and for re-configurability, not easily available in an introductory published text used for the undergraduates. Students viewed this additional content as very useful to exposing them to advanced topics related to future RF systems. The three examples of porting the WSN course material into sub-discipline-specific courses are detailed in this paper, including a description of the supplementary material that was developed to effectively merge the new content. A common outcome was that these materials effectively helped students develop conceptual frameworks that enhanced their understanding of multilayered systems. All the developed course content is available through the project website

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalASEE Annual Conference and Exposition, Conference Proceedings
StatePublished - 2011

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Engineering


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