Electrical engineering tech students still wired in
By Lana Sweeten-Shults
GCU News Bureau
Grand Canyon University Electrical Engineering Technology Program Lead Ed Koeneman gave his students their graduation presents early – an idea sparked by the inevitability of ground classes moving to an online environment in the shadow of COVID-19.
Instead of a hearty “congratulations” or a hug or high-five, Koeneman handed his students a bouquet of toolkits and voltmeters, then conducted them toward a box of broken and malfunctioning apparatuses, gadgets and gizmos.
It was his light-bulb moment.
His students’ mission, which they had to accept as students in his EET 340 Electrical Troubleshooting and Maintenance class, was to pick one of these broken and malfunctioning apparatuses, gadgets and gizmos and then bring it home.
They would spend their coronavirus-mandated, shelter-at-home time fixing these broken things, then report their results during a class meeting via remote video conferencing platform Zoom.
“It was a unique opportunity for me, because we were going to troubleshoot these items in class together and critique each other’s work. But doing troubleshooting at home and being able to debrief together, I think, worked well,” said Koeneman, who himself has been doing a little gadget tinkering at home over the past couple of years, converting his gas-powered car to an electric-powered one.
Repairing electrical and electronic devices at home, then revealing those fixes on Zoom, was just another way GCU faculty and students are adapting from an on-ground setting to a distance-learning environment.
In the Electrical Troubleshooting and Maintenance class, Koeneman exposes students to as many electrical and electronic systems as possible during the first 10 weeks of class, from solar- and wind-powered systems to residential and industrial wiring and electric motors.
In the last five weeks of class, students take a broken piece of equipment that Koeneman has collected during the school year from a goody box. They fix those devices in class and in their residence halls, then meet in class to review how students were able to repair those pieces of equipment.
The coronavirus changed those plans for everyone, but Koeneman and his EET 340 students, including senior Jake Johnson, adapted well.
Johnson thought of grabbing a Lego Mindstorms control module from Koeneman’s box of broken devices even though he’d never built a Lego Mindstorms programmable robot before.
“So instead of trying to fix a device I hadn’t used before, I decided to try to troubleshoot a gaming keyboard of mine I had been using for a couple of years that had stopped working,” said Johnson, who’s finishing up his classes online from his home in Phoenix.
Instead of repairing the keyboard before the class reunited for its Zoom meeting and reviewing the repair with his classmates via prerecorded video, he decided he was going to fix his keyboard live online. He set up his phone as a webcam, then removed the keys from the keyboard so he could see the circuit board inside.
“I looked to the bottom and saw signs of water damage. … I cleaned up a lot of the connections and contacts on the inside. I got it working,” said Johnson, who recalls a spilled soda incident.
Another classmate, Johnson said, tried to fix an early Roomba vacuum live during the Zoom class meeting. She took it apart, but the system was complex with numerous failures.
“We all thought of recommendations, so she tried those,” he said.
But in the end, the Roomba wasn’t something that could be repaired with her existing repair tools or during the limited amount of class time.
Electrical engineering technology senior Eden Jane Rasay brought a nonfunctioning Xplorer GLX with her back to her home in Hawaii. It’s a data graphing logger that students use for their science classes.
“I shook the device to see if anything was moving around; there was,” Rasay said. “ I figured out why it wasn’t working. … Somebody dropped it from really high.”
She tried to remove the LCD screen, she said, but it was too difficult. She decided that the cost to repair the Xplorer GLX was too expensive compared to what it would cost to just buy a new one.
Rasay was able to show during the class video conference what she did to troubleshoot the data graphing logger. “It was really cool because I got to research and use the techniques (learned in class). It was very helpful.”
She added, “I actually liked it (presenting her troubleshooting efforts online), especially with this class. You get to communicate with each other and show what you did.”
Johnson said that while showing minor details of those repairs was difficult online, “I think the ability to video call everybody almost gave us kind of an interaction, like in class.”
These last few weeks of class in the online environment is much like what students would be doing in class, Koeneman said. “It’s applying everything they learned in the first two-thirds of the class. If they can fix it, let’s do so. If they can’t, what’s the recommendation? Come up with a diagnosis.”
The class also is working with Engineering Shop Manager John Berkheimer, who took the class on a virtual tour of a piece of equipment called a CNC plasma cutter.
“Like a lot of industrial equipment, it’s put together with pieces from different manufacturers – so five manuals – but you don’t have this overall troubleshooting procedure or maintenance manual. Students had to take this piece of equipment and come up with an owner’s manual and troubleshooting guide,” Koeneman said.
Koeneman emphasized how this class isn’t about the thing you’re troubleshooting. “It’s about applying this methodology over and over again to various electronic systems,” Koeneman said.
As it turns out, it’s a methodology that has translated well to the distance-learning world. And it’s a graduation gift his students aren’t likely to forget.
GCU senior writer Lana Sweeten-Shults can be reached at [email protected] or at 602-639-7901.