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How HyFlex Engineering Lab Instruction Works at Missouri S&T

Missouri S&T

Now that students are returning to campus at Missouri S&T, with a mix of online and in-person classes, an instructor in electrical engineering is perfecting his approach to lab activities. Kelvin Erickson, a professor of electrical engineering, teaches a course with multiple sections on programmable manufacturing automation.

When the switch to all-remote instruction began in the spring, Erickson began meeting with his students on Zoom to continue helping them learn how to design manufacturing automation using robotics, assembly and warehouse storage and retrieval systems. Because all of the equipment was accessible online, that class used cameras and large displays that already existed in the lab. The gear enabled students to "pan around" and see if their machines were operating the way they wanted them to, according to student Timothy Cochran, a senior in electrical engineering. "To me, the transition was very smooth."

Erickson is no stranger to online teaching. As a participant in a decade-old virtual instruction arrangement through a cooperative engineering degree program with his own university and Missouri State University in Springfield, he has worked with remote students in courses taught by S&T faculty.

Typically, Erickson and one teaching assistant could oversee students at six separate lab stations when they were all in class. The move to online learning cut that in half. As Erickson recounted in a university article about the program, "We figured out that one person can handle three teams of [three] students online." To compensate, he added another teaching assistant to each lab section. Those teaching assistants could also be remote.

Now, the course will be offered in a HyFlex model. Each week, one student will be at each of the six stations in the lab while another is online. The following week, they'll switch places. And if the need arises, Erickson said he could take the lab back entirely online again.

When something goes wrong, Erickson goes into the lab and resets the equipment.

"I try to get as close as possible to being physically present in the lab," he told writer Nancy Bowles. "We don't teach the distance students by themselves because we came to see that learning is better in teams."

Erickson sounds pleased by the results. The students "are putting in two weeks of work during the first week," from what he's noticed. "Obviously, they prefer to be in the lab, but we try to make it as easy as possible to do it remotely."

A video showing the setup is available on YouTube.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.

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