Labs and Lectures Look Different This Fall

You Can Help Us Retool

The return to classrooms for students across the country has been vastly altered. The pandemic has forced several changes in course delivery, classroom setup, and several other typical student activities at all levels and settings from elementary schools to four year institutions. We at the University of Minnesota are similarly working with our students in classrooms that have been altered to fit in with the realities of our new pandemic altered landscape.

For students and instructors in ECE, the fall 2020 semester will look very different, although our collective missions stay the same. Our students will return curious as always, ready to solve problems, and seek answers. And our instructors will be ready to nourish  curiosity, stoke imaginations, and teach our students how to solve problems. 

To continue our legacy of excellence in education, the department will be introducing several changes to physical learning spaces such as labs and classrooms, as well as learning support resources such as tutoring and group work. Here are some ways in which we are continuing our academic mission.

And you can help us carry on the legacy.


Classes for the fall 2020 semester will be delivered using in-person, remote (synchronous), online (asynchronous), and hybrid modalities, and we are using a variety of different technologies to support student learning. One instance is the use of Digilent’s Analog Discovery 2 (AD2), an instrument that can measure, generate, control, and perform several other functions, and substitute for standard laboratory equipment in some cases. A USB device, it can be simply plugged into a student’s computer. ECE will be mailing these out to international students unable to get back to the U.S., and to students who are unable to attend classes or labs in person because they are immuno-compromised or live with someone who is. Most students however, will be in our labs, learning about circuits, electronics, and embedded systems as they always have.

We have developed protocols, and rearranged the labs to accommodate a safe learning environment. After reviewing the ECE lab occupancy capabilities, several adaptations have been identified to provide high quality distanced in-person instruction to our students. For instance, with the move to handwritten homework being scanned and submitted online, teaching assistants will use pen-based input devices to complete grading. A successful prototype program was executed in spring and is ready to be deployed this fall using iPads and pens.

EE 3005, Fundamentals of Electrical Engineering, and EE 3006, the accompanying lab, are service courses that the department provides to mechanical engineering and aerospace engineering and mechanics majors. This course has a large number of students and labs are always completely full, making it particularly difficult to transition to in-person distanced instruction. An effort is underway this summer to offer an online-only version of this lab. This requires take-home (loaned) equipment which provides the same features as our in-lab scopes, signal generators, and power supplies. Digilent’s Analog Discovery 2 (AD2) is a USB device that plugs into a student’s computer and provides all these features. We would like to expand this program into two sections this fall requiring 26 AD2 devices plus accessories (~$210 each.) In addition, we would need 0.5 additional TA appointments ($42k each) to service these sections. This would cost $27,000.


Junior and senior design courses are inherently group-based and executing a group project in a socially distanced manner requires rethinking the way we implement our lab space for these courses. The use of 7 feet hexagonal tables will allow students to work together without encroaching on personal space. Lab equipment will be placed in the middle to allow some isolation, and yet allow students to talk across the table with each other.


The IEEE honor society HKN is working on more nimble tutoring solutions. One option that is being actively considered is the use of a Discord server so our HKN tutors can deliver online and socially distanced tutoring, making sure students keep up with the challenges of the classroom while they deal with the challenges of the pandemic. These are just some of the ways in which the department is preparing for the upcoming academic year. There might be hurdles along the way, but we are ready to tackle them, and ensure that our students have a fulfilling and rewarding learning and co-curricular experience. 

Classes and labs are looking different this fall, but they will remain true to ECE’s legacy of academic excellence. With your support, we can provide our students with the outstanding educational experience they have earned through their own years of hard work. Gifts of all sizes matter and will make an immediate impact as students return to learning. Thank you for considering a gift in support of ECE students!


*The carousel image for the story is a photograph of Keller Hall layered over with an illustration by chenspec from Pixabay.*