One of the BELS (Baskin Engineering Lab Support) staff had an interesting proposal for next year: maybe, instead of tying up a lab with $200,000 worth of bench equipment next year, the applied electronics course could have students rent a box containing an Analog Discovery 2 (with USB cable and power supply). Each box would cost about $200, and students could rent them for about $30 a quarter (there is precedent for this approach—it is used in the first programming course for Computer Engineering). As long as the failure rate for the USB oscilloscopes is low enough, the rental would cover replacement about every three years. Furthermore, students could purchase the boxes at the end of the course for cost minus the rental rate. Given the attractiveness of the instrument to bioelectronics students and to hobbyists, I suspect that about 1/3 of the boxes would get bought each year.
The initial investment is relatively modest (about $20,000 for 100 boxes) and the change would make it much easier to schedule the labs next year—all that is needed is a room with enough electrical outlets and enough tables and chairs (not even fancy lab benches). We’d also need to have soldering irons and fume extractors, but those have already been purchased (though we may need to get more, as they keep getting used for other courses and other needs.
I’m now trying to decide between two options:
- Stick with the conventional bench equipment we have.
- Switch to using the Analog Discovery 2 exclusively (with maybe a handheld DMM for use as an ohmmeter)
The conventional bench equipment approach has the advantage of teaching the students how to use equipment that they are likely to see again in other courses or in research labs. The Analog Discovery 2 is not suitable for high-frequency work, so students going into work that need higher bandwidth will have to learn conventional bench equipment—the current course is the best training available to the students and helps them considerably in the EE lab courses, where they are expected to figure out the rather complicated bench equipment on their own. The bench equipment approach also requires no extra expenses for the students.
The Analog Discovery 2 approach has the advantage of allowing the students to do almost all the labs anywhere. With the lab time for 5 sections coming to 16 hours a week, not having to share a lab with another course would be a welcome relief, both for us and for them. (Also, we wouldn’t have to deal with all the damage that the untrained, unsupervised students in the first EE class do to the equipment.) The Analog Discovery 2 provides an easier-to-use interface for all the equipment than the rather clunky old interfaces of the bench equipment in the lab—some of the labs that now take hours could be done in a few minutes, because of the better integration of the instrumentation. Furthermore, the students would be able to buy at very low cost a piece of equipment that would serve them very well in other courses and as hobbyists.
If we did go with the Analog Discovery 2, I would have to rewrite big chunks of the book to adapt the labs and remove (or separate to different sections) references to the bench equipment. I’m already planning to do a fairly major overhaul of the book this summer and fall, so that’s not a major argument one way or the other.
Faithful readers, advise me! Should I stick with the bench equipment or should I move to BELS renting out Analog Discovery 2 boxes next year? What other factors should I consider in making the decision?