The Next Generation ECE Curriculum

The Old Model

Introductory ECE courses—at Northeastern and around the world—have traditionally been taught in a classic lecture + lab model: students attend three or four lectures each week that address theory, give examples, and perhaps even work out some practice problems. But all of this is in 2-D. Whether on a chalkboard, a whiteboard, or using high-end presentation technology, it’s still flat. Real practice in the lab is a completely separate experience, in a different location from the lecture, and relies heavily on the students to achieve the “a-ha” moment when theory and practice intersect.

The New Model

Imagine a different teaching model, one in which lecture and lab are fully integrated. A 15-minute discussion of Thevenin-Norton equivalents is followed by building circuits and measuring outputs. Complex exponentials are illustrated by the superposition of sinusoids from function generators with the amplitude resonse and phase shift of an amplifier being immediately observable on the bench. Students will be able to instantaneously connect equations with functioning systems and connect “the model” with reality. Instructors are constantly circulating, answering questions, providing feedback, and asking probing forward-thinking questions to push the students toward a higher level of understanding.  Students finish their introductory courses with more applicable hands-on experience and take this knowledge directly into their first co-op position.

Northeastern's Reality: The Future is Now

This teaching model is now Northeastern ECE’s reality as of Fall 2014. We have radically redesigned our introductory ECE courses to teach them in the integrated lecture + lab style described above. Our curricular redesign is the culmination of years of planning and pilot courses in which we perfected both the content and the teaching style. In addition to even better setting our students on their way through our curriculum and preparing them for their first co-ops, these courses make NU’s ECE curriculum a model for other ECE departments, both nationally and internationally. One course focuses on electrical engineering principles and the other on computer engineering principles, each providing a rich hands-on foundation while providing a glimpse at the respective majors to help students chart their path forward through ECE.

Our dedicated faculty have devoted many semesters toward our vision of revolutionary introductory courses. The final stage of our new curriculum is the new integrated lecture + lab learning space. During summer 2014, the new functional lab environment has been completely integrated with lecture and discussion space. These new classrooms allow instructors to circulate among the students, thereby enabling an interactive and dynamic learning environment.  

“I strongly believe ECE is the most useful undergraduate degree in engineering, preparing students for success in professions as diverse as medicine, law, and business; for graduate study in engineering; or even for a career as an electrical or computer engineer. But as a discipline nationally, ECE still teaches our introductory courses in the same way they were taught 30 years ago. I am extremely proud of Northeastern ECE’s new introductory courses: they will allow our students to get an even better “running start” into their first co-op experience and into the upper levels of our course offerings, and it will get them “thinking like an engineer”—which is exactly what makes an ECE degree so valuable in the first place.”
  --Professor Sheila Hemami, ECE Department Chair

“The new format makes abstract concepts significantly more meaningful because students use them immediately to solve real engineering problems. I’ve directly experienced the increased understanding and the “that’s cool” moments when students experiment with theory I’ve introduced in mini-lectures.  And the new format is more fun for me: I enjoy being able to interact individually with students at the bench. It also lets me see directly what they do and don’t understand, and tailor subsequent course material accordingly.”
  --Professor Mark Niedre

Student Perspectives

  • “This course had a lot of strengths in the application of concepts to solving problems in the physical world and tying them directly to real ideas. I got more out of this class than out of any other I’ve taken at Northeastern so far.”
  • “I feel well prepared for my future co-ops and other employment in the field of robotics and programming."
  • “This course excels in linking real-world applications to what we are learning in the classroom. The series of EKG labs allowed me to apply my knowledge of circuits and signal processing in the lab environment."