The main focus of the course was to teach the basic concepts of measurement and instrumentation systems. Dr. Tabatabaei and Quanser engineers brainstormed the course structure and decided on a combination of lectures and practical laboratory work.
Focus on Efficient Use of Class Time
The two-hour per week lecture gave the instructor time to cover the underlying physics and design of measurement systems for various phenomena, fundamentals of instrumentation systems, computerized data acquisition, as well as data presentation strategies and related statistics. Modern pedagogy was top of mind when preparing the lectures. Dr. Tabatabaei worked closely with the Mechanical Engineering department’s education consultant, Ms. Minha R. Ha to implement multiple techniques aimed at enhancing students’ engagement and learning outcomes. The lectures were designed on a flipped classroom concept, with preassigned mandatory and optional readings and videos to watch. The time in the class could be then dedicated to discussions and more complex concepts that would be difficult for students to master by themselves. Additionally, Dr. Tabatabaei included in-class demonstrations to show students how theory relates to practical applications. He also created in-class experiments, where students worked with the demonstration units in small groups, measuring, for example, the output of a low-pass filter, and explaining their results using the concepts taught in the lectures. That is also the first example of the experiential learning they were exposed to during the course.
Quanser Experiential Laboratory
To give students a true hands-on experience beyond the classroom demonstrations, Dr. Tabatabaei and Quanser engineers came with the idea of the Quanser Experiential Laboratory, adding a two-hour laboratory session per week to the course. The lab sessions involved practical measurements and observations which were mapped to the topics covered during the lectures. The open architecture of Quanser equipment allowed students to learn how to read, process, and analyze raw sensor signals and calibrate them to obtain the desired output. Although the equipment was not developed originally for measurement and instrumentation courses, the hardware customization done by Quanser expanded the use of these workstations from classic control experimentation to demonstrating measurement and instrumentation concepts. The customization included adding a new flow sensor to the Coupled Tank system, as well as designing custom experimental setups for temperature measurement, operational amplifiers, and strain measurement. In addition, two labs were designed and offered toward the end of the course, where students were tasked with developing the signal conditioning electronics (e.g., amplification, filtering, and Wheatstone bridge circuits) from scratch using passive and active electronics. These two labs were specifically intended to provide students with hands-on experience in developing signal conditioning circuits, a skill very much needed for their final projects, and required an application of the knowledge they acquired during the course.
With the input from Dr. Tabatabaei, Quanser engineers also developed a comprehensive measurement and instrumentation laboratory curriculum that fully supported the course learning outcomes. That gave the Lassonde School of Engineering a great return on their investment: the equipment acquired for measurement and instrumentation lab could be shared with other courses and departments focused on classic control topics. and Measurement Techniques course students not only learned fundamental concepts in lectures and got hands-on experience in the labs but, by designing and developing a real-life instrumentation system, they also got to apply their knowledge to solve a practical problem. Earlier in the semester, Dr. Tabatabei dedicated lecture time for an Idea Generation Workshop, where the faculty and Quanser engineers helped students to come up with feasible ideas for their final project, using infrastructure available in the lab and a small budget of approx. $25 per group. Students were then tasked to produce a short video pitching their idea and submit a project proposal, detailing the project development and timelines. With feedback from their professors and Qunaser engineers, they spent the last two weeks of the course building their systems. At the end, the systems were presented in a conference-type setting and judged by a panel consisting of Lassonde’s Dean, faculty, and Quanser engineers.