Gas station without pumps

2013 May 27

Sounds like my course

Filed under: Circuits course — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 19:53
Tags: , ,

I’ve been reading an infrequent blog by a freshman at Olin Engineering, because it is one of the schools that my son is considering applying to.  He likes the idea of project-based learning, though he is more interested in computer science than in engineering, and Olin doesn’t have a straight CS option.

The post Burn Brilliant: Reflections on Second Semester, Part 2 describes a first-year course called Real-World Measurements:

The first half of RWM was formatted exactly like ModCon. It was centered around labs in which we used lots of different sensors. For example, we built an EKG, a circuit that could tell how far it was from a wall by sending and receiving sound signals, a strain gauge circuit to study beam bending, and a pulse oximeter. In lecture, we talked about op amps (in more detail than we had in ModCon), instrumentation amps, some more complicated filters, Bode plots, and Fourier series.

That sounds like it has a lot of overlap with my applied circuits course for bioengineers:  we also did an EKG and a strain-gauge circuit (though our strain gauge was in a pressure sensor not on a beam).  I considered doing a pulse oximeter, but I never figured out a way to calibrate the device—I wonder how the Olin students handled that.  If the pulse oximeter is doable as a one-week project, it would be worth adding to the course, even if something else is removed.

I should probably look for materials on the web about the course, or contact the instructor.

The Olin class was the second in a series, so they were able to go a bit further into sensor usage and electronics theory (we did Bode plots and simple RC filters, but not Fourier series), but the emphasis on sensors as the focus of a course is similar.  The Olin course had a second half that was more student-directed group project (part of the pedagogic approach at Olin that is so appealing for engineers), which I don’t think there is room for in my applied circuits course.

Large independent projects provide a lot of learning, but are a bit slower than more focused design exercises. Having only 10 weeks for the whole course limits how much time can be spent on projects. I can’t assume that students will pick up more material in subsequent engineering courses, since this is the last electronics course that most of them will take, so I made the tradeoff of doing more design exercises, but somewhat smaller ones.


  1. The course website is , and though there were four instructors, the main one was Brian Storey.

    Comment by Josette — 2013 May 27 @ 20:22 | Reply

    • Thanks. I looked a bit at and see some pedagogic differences from my course. One big difference is that students were given complete schematics for the sensor labs at Olin—they had to build and debug the circuits, but not design them. This allows for more complicated circuits, but less design practice. The big project at the end compensates by having a more open-ended design experience.

      It looks like the pulse oximeter wasn’t calibrated. I might want to try building my own uncalibrated pulse oximeter circuits this summer, to see whether I can come up with an interesting design lab that is within the capabilities of the students in my course. Just having them build my design is not so interesting.

      Comment by gasstationwithoutpumps — 2013 May 27 @ 23:11 | Reply

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