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Grant to Fund Virginia Tech's Lab-in-a-Box Program
January 20, 2009

The National Science Foundation (NSF) recently awarded the College of Engineering at Virginia Tech an almost $500,000 four-year grant to expand its Lab-in-a-Box program for electrical and computer engineering classes to reach online students, while helping Blacksburg students with after-hours questions. Professor Bob Hendricks of the materials science and engineering department and Assistant Professor Kathleen Meehan in the electrical and computer engineering department, along with Peter Doolittle, associate professor in the Department of Learning Sciences and Technology within the Virginia Tech School of Education and director of the Center for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching (CEUT), will use the NSF Course Curriculum and Laboratory Improvement Phase II award to spearhead the project, Lab-in-a-Box: Development of Materials to Support Independent Experimentation on Concepts in Circuits and Electronics.

Prof. Meehan will serve as principal investigator, while Profs. Hendricks and Doolittle will serve as co-principal investigators. Richard Clark, head of the engineering program at Virginia Western Community College, also will participate on the grant. The project builds on previously NSF-funded work that helped Prof. Hendricks and others within Virginia Tech develop Lab-in-a-Box, an inexpensive laboratory kit that allows students enrolled in a lecture-based beginning electrical engineering class to design, build and test various DC and AC circuits at home. The kit includes a digital multimeter, a powered circuit trainer with an attached breadboard, reams of wire, connectors, receivers, and various tools, all from the New Jersey-based Electronix Express, and a software oscilloscope program developed by Professor Christian Zeitnitz of the University of Wuppertal in Germany.

Among the myriad of additions and changes Prof. Hendricks made to the kit is the addition of the carrying case itself – a high-end tackle box he spotted at a Wal-Mart sporting goods department. All told, the kit plus tackle box totals roughly $200. Accompanying the Lab-in-a-Box and costing $30 extra is a 340-page textbook now in its third edition with 38 experiments. Funding from the four-year grant project will be used to expand the use of the boxes to electrical engineering online classes, serving not only Virginia Tech students, but those outside Blacksburg. Many students at Virginia Western Community College in Roanoke, Va., Piedmont Virginia Community College in Charlottesville, Va., and J. Sergeant Reynolds Community College in Richmond, Va., already use the box in various classes, but the grant money will expand this option to those who don’t have a laboratory class as an option.

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