Expanding the Benefits of Mobile Studio Classrooms
Don Lewis Millard, Ph.D., Academy of Electronic Media
The "Mobile Studio" project is developing pedagogy and hardware/software which,
when connected to the Tablet PC (via USB), provides similar functionality to that
of the laboratory equipment (scope, function generator, power supplies, DMM, etc.)
currently associated with an instrumented studio classroom. Our goal is to further
expand the studio pedagogy (pioneered by Rensselaer with the help of HP) to have
students learn with technology in mobile environments that are no longer limited
by network access and equipment issues. Our aim is to: develop and use educational
technology to eliminate the boundaries between theories provided in a lecture and
practice; apply concepts in directed problem sessions; and enable/encourage our
students' "hands-on" exploration of engineering principles, devices, and systems
that have historically been restricted to specific laboratory facilities.
Today's students are computer-savvy, exhibit a diminished attention span, and have
tremendous demands upon their time. Educational research has shown that humans retain
perhaps 10% of what they hear someone else tell them, but retain as much as 90%
of what they learn by doing. Mobile studios with TabLabs can be set-up and removed
in minutes, allowing for greater efficiencies in space utilization, scheduling (over
a period of 24 hours/day), maintenance & support, enhanced student-teacher engagement
and ultimately, improved student learning.
Engineering students are typically running multiple applications while simultaneously
using browsers, instant messaging and search engines on their computers. This results
in competition for the user's attention and impedes the ability to focus - with
the notable exception of the engrossment involved with a computer game. Consequently,
the shortened attention spans, lowered tolerance for repetition, and dependence
on computers seriously challenges educators to provide information in more dynamic,
compelling, thorough, and interactive ways.
As designs have become increasingly complex and electronic in nature, today's products
require advanced skills and greater intuition in science, math, engineering and
technology. Shortened attention spans hinder students from staying engaged and focused
in math and science classrooms, resulting in poorer performance and diminished interest
in pursuing technical careers.
Notwithstanding the recent advances in educational technology, we need to incorporate
more dynamic, hands-on opportunities to reach and motivate more diverse populations.
Today's engineering students don't enter college with the same amount of hands-on
experience that prior generations had.
We have observed that by simultaneously stimulating a student's multiple senses,
we can improve the student's understanding of the educational concepts - which leads
to greater retention and application of the acquired knowledge. In addition, the
Mobile Studio has changed the way students make measurements; allowing for a nearly
instantaneous comparison between theoretical predictions, virtual simulations and
actual hands-on experimental results. Students can again "tinker" with the hardware
aspects of engineering and science, providing open-ended opportunities to explore
ideas - as prior generations did.
Student access to user-friendly, computer-controlled instrumentation and data analysis
techniques offers immediate scaffolding of principles and concepts by obtaining
experimental results - from the Mobile Studio hardware & software. Current collaborations
(student-student, student-teacher) in classes are typically limited to using static
2D data (e.g. on paper) and constrained problems. This project implements the utilization
of dynamic data, graphical collaboration techniques, and in-class design scenarios
to further engage students. For example, team results from the development of a
circuit project are presented and distributed via the mobile audio/video system.
With the advent of the Mobile Studio's Tablet PC-based lab (TabLab), many instrumentation-based
course offerings can now be held in normal classrooms rather than in specially outfitted
studio facilities. In addition, students can perform hands-on experiments outside
of the classroom anywhere/anytime, thus facilitating new opportunities for them
to "tinker" and gain valuable insight through practical experience. Ultimately,
we can foster scaffolding and improve the retention of information using interactive
multimedia and computer based hardware, since users can guide themselves through
materials and tinker at their own pace and level.
Impact on Teaching
The Mobile Studio provides students with the equipment to grasp the fundamental
concepts associated with engineering education by acquiring, utilizing and controlling
real world phenomena (e.g. voltage, current, resistance, position, temperature,
intensity, etc.); moving objects to precise locations; and developing systems to
monitor, process & manipulate electrical signals and events.
The project's outcomes will enable students to take measurements (using a scope,
function generator, etc.) and test prototype designs from anywhere at anytime.
Impact on Student Learning
The assessment of the pilot efforts included a review of the educational technology,
interviews with faculty, classroom observations, student evaluation surveys/interviews,
and conventional student performance metrics (course work, HW, exams, etc.). Student
performance on design-oriented problems by those using the Mobile Studio's TabLab
instrumentation was significantly better than the group that did not participate
in the Mobile Studio sessions - in contrast with analysis-oriented problems, in
which similar results were achieved by both groups. The Mobile Studio allowed faculty
to better present course concepts and foster student interactivity & collaboration.
One Year Ago - Even with the more engaging studio environments, student
learning is still impeded by space constraints, insufficient time for laboratory
activities (particularly to do the in-depth probing that leads to an intuitive feel
for system design), and poorly designed equipment that takes up a great deal of
space - and can't be brought home for individual study. Lab-equipped classrooms
are both in high demand and in extremely short supply.
Today - Configuring a studio facility typically requires a large equipment
allocation/expense and a specific space utilization plan. Renovation of existing
facilities is currently cost-prohibitive for many schools, thus limiting the potential
to leverage the advantages of the studio format. The hardware is now in use at Rensselaer
and Howard - providing studio classrooms for curricula that used to offer courses
in lecture only formats; currently involving Physics, Electronic Arts, Electrical
Engineering, Computer Engineering and Rensselaer's core engineering program.
One Year From Now - We will use the HP advanced mobile technologies
to produce a new generation of classrooms that are more adaptive and less reliant
on the construction of large facilities, allowing studio pedagogy to be readily
deployed at a dramatically reduced cost. We will infuse the TabLab technology and
pedagogy into the Physics and ECSE departments' large enrollment courses and expand
the utilization of mobile studio classrooms campus-wide. Ultimately, we will develop
the Mobile Studio practices and the TabLab technology into a model that can be readily
adopted by home-schooling providers, community colleges, universities, and K-12
institutions - to significantly impact student learning on a national scale.
The prototype TabLab hardware/software educational technology and the Mobile Studio
pedagogy was developed during summer 04. In order to investigate the extension of
the pedagogy & educational technology to a different/diverse campus, two Mobile
Studio sessions were also conducted at both Rensselaer and Howard University in
December 04 and in April 05. Since Howard doesn't currently have studio facilities,
the sessions offered their students a "hands-on" experience - in contrast with what
had typically been purely "paper & pencil" projects. The student response from
the pilots has been tremendous - uniformly generating requests for more Mobile Studio
activities. Additionally, students are now able to use the TabLab systems to work
on design projects outside of class (e.g. in the dorm).
Additional outreach activities were carried out with 4th grade science teachers
from the Niskayuna School District (@Craig Elementary School). Tablet PCs were used
to explore interactive modules (developed by Rensselaer's Academy of Electronic
Media) with the Mobile Studio hardware/software to aid the students' understanding
of electrical connectivity, resistance and circuit testing. A subset of the Mobile
Studio Tablet PCs was also used in an interactive session at Lansingburg High School
(Troy, NY), which incorporated hands-on activities to demonstrate the impact that
electronics had on music.
Academy of Electronic Media
Electrical, Computer and Systems Engineering
Physics I & II
# Students Impacted:
Analog & Digital Electronics
Electronics and Instrumentation
Senior Project Design Courses
Currently - 180/year (130@Rensselaer, 50@Howard)
# Faculty Involved:
Full Deployment - 1000/year
Networks/Circuits - 5 (3@Rensselaer, 2@Howard)
Electronics - 2
Fields and Waves - 1
Physics - 2
NSF Chautauqua faculty - 25
K-12 science teachers - 3
This project is funded in part by a 2004 & 2005 (Extension) HP Technology for
Presentations & Publications
The Mobile Studio project has gained campus-wide attention and broad national interest
as a result of numerous campus visitations, the NSF Grantees Conference (February
05), ASEE and FIE 05 workshops, poster sessions, and demonstrations. The mobile
studio classroom was demonstrated at PKAL's national meeting (September 04) and
at NASA's Advances in Learning Technologies conference (March 05).
A hands-on panel was conducted at the annual ASEE conference (June 05, Portland,
OR). As a result of an invited plenary presentation at the Electrical and Computer
Engineering Department Heads Assoc. (ECEDHA) meeting (March 05) many community colleges
and universities around the country have expressed a keen interest in adopting the
Mobile Studio pedagogy.
A Rensselaer alumnus who is a Fellow at Analog Devices Inc. (ADI) was informed about
the Mobile Studio as a result of an article that was published in our Winter 2004 Alumni Magazine
and has since provided both
personal and ADI corporate support for the project. These funds have helped to cover
the fabrication of the TabLab printed circuit cards, components and student compensation.
As a wonderful testament to the projects achievements, Jason Coutermarsh (the undergraduate
student developing the instrumentation board hardware) won first prize at Rensselaer's
2005 Undergraduate Education/Research Project Competition.