4, NOVEMBER 2008
A Teaching Laboratory in Analog Electronics:
Changes to Address the Bologna Requirements
Rafael Magdalena, Antonio J. Serrano, Jose D. Martín-Guerrero, Alfredo Rosado, and Marcelino Martinez
Abstract—Training new electronics engineers presents several
major challenges. This paper proposes a new approach for prac-
tical lessons in second-level analog electronics, where students get
a closer view of real-world practices in electronic engineering. The
authors describe and evaluate a more dynamic way of teaching
practical lessons in analog electronics in the first year of an
electronic engineering degree. The method consists of creating a
virtual company that contracts students to develop prototypes.
The design process involves theoretical concepts fromthe students’
lessons, and poses challenges with respect to costs and teamwork.
The method brings the students closer to the working environment
of electronic engineering, and also reinforces both the students’
responsibility and their interest in practical matters in electronics.
Index Terms—Analog electronics teaching, cooperative work,
teamwork, workgroup teaching.
HE European panorama of university studies has evolved
quickly in recent years. The approach of creating a
common European university space is changing the various
national points of view with regard to teaching university-level
education. The Bologna meeting of 1999 set the convergence
of all the national university programs of the European partners
on a path towards a common frame [1], [2].
The main recommendations of this meeting can be summa-
rized as follows: newequivalent degrees should come into being
across the European Union (EU), on more specific subjects or
areas, and of shorter duration. During these degrees, a more
practical approach to teaching is desirable, an aspect which be-
comes more important in technological degrees, where within
a short time students will graduate and search for jobs in fast-
evolving companies. Usually, the duration of such degrees is
about two or three years. In order to define a common frame-
work for comparing the same studies within the EU, the Euro-
pean Credit Transfer System (ECTS) has arisen. This system
measures the work burden of a subject in terms of time, setting
the measurement unit as the work a student can do in one hour.
In recent years, university degrees in Spain have been
evolving towards these EU recommendations. The most signifi-
cant changes are the new programs for Bachelor’s and Master’s
degrees, new doctoral programs, and a new legal structure for
the functioning of universities [Ley de Ordenación de las Uni-
versidades (LOU)] [3]. The Spanish universities are preparing
Manuscript received June 23, 2005; revised November 10, 2007. Current ver-
sion published November 5, 2008.
The authors are with the University of Valencia, 46010 Valencia, Spain
(e-mail: rafael.magdalena@uv.es).
Color versions of one or more of the figures in this paper are available online
at http://ieeexplore.ieee.org.
Digital Object Identifier 10.1109/TE.2007.912553
the necessary changes to meet the ECTS requirements in 2009.
One of the main aspects that Spanish universities take into
account is related to teaching methodologies. New degrees will
pay more attention to practical issues in the various subjects,
will lean towards problem-based learning, and will feature a
closer monitoring of the work of the students by the teacher,
characteristics that are less common in existing degree pro-
A. Electronic Engineering at the University of Valencia
The proposed method of laboratory teaching was tested in
the electronic engineering degree program. Due to the partic-
ular characteristics of this degree, most of the students are very
young, with little or no previous knowledge of electronics. The
lack of background means that competent technical engineers
must be trained in three years, starting from zero. This fact im-
plies a major challenge that comprises not only that of imparting
technical knowledge, but also of mastering the psychological
skills required to motivate and teach crowded classrooms of
young people [4], [5].
The usual structure of every module is based on lectures,
where theoretical concepts are explained and illustrated using
calculated examples, and laboratory lessons where practical cir-
cuits, based on theory lessons, are implemented. The students
usually carry out these laboratory lessons either individually or
in groups of two. The latter is the most common choice. This
structure is quite common in an electronics degree, but suf-
fers from some major disadvantages. First, guided exercises and
practical sessions often promote a passive attitude in the stu-
dent, who may make an effort to fill the spaces in the practical
notebook, being uncritical of the work done. The result is that,
frequently, the student carries out the required task, but does not
understand the electronic concepts that underlie the work. An-
other issue is that “parasitism” is possible under this policy. One
of the students in the pair can do all the work, while the other
benefits by receiving the same mark, without having done any
work at all. The questions posed to students regarding important
aspects of the work try to eliminate this aspect, but such ques-
tions are only given a subjective mark and crowded labs reduce
the effectiveness of this method. Afurther drawback is that most
of the time, practical sessions do not investigate a practical cir-
cuit but merely work as an example of theoretical concepts, so
there is not much additional teaching in these practical lectures.
The current system is just a repetitive structure, a mechanical
task where the components are changed from one form to an-
other, but which bears no relation to the industrial setting. In
addition, this policy promotes neither competitiveness amongst
students, nor collaborative work, nor the ability to assign tasks
0018-9359/$25.00 © 2008 IEEE
and duties in a project. Therefore, a new policy for practical
work, and an appropriate suite of lessons, had to be designed to
overcome these drawbacks [6]–[8].
Usually, jobs in electronic-related companies require the
previously mentioned skills: collaborative work, team and
task management, and an aptitude for concept synthesis and
decision-making. Other aspects are also critical in industrial
environments: cost, performance, size, power consumption,
etc. All of these considerations prompted the authors to devise
a new environment for practical lessons in Analog Electronics
II, a second-year course, which conveyed all of these job-re-
lated skills [4], [9], [10]. The main objectives were to provide
high-quality teaching to students, both in terms of content
and presentation, in order to motivate students and achieve
effective collaboration from them in the classroom, and to teach
additional skills not directly related to electronics (practical,
teamwork, prototype cost, etc.), considered as very valuable in
the professional working environment [9]–[11].
Aalborg University, Aalborg, Denmark, has a long tradi-
tion in the development of modern, unconventional teaching
programs. For example, over the last 25 years it has been
running problem-oriented, project-organized undergraduate
education [12]. One of Aalborg University’s trademarks is
its unique pedagogic model of teaching: the problem-based,
project-organized model (problem-based learning). In this
method, a great part of the semester’s teaching and student
work revolve around complex real-life problems or issues that
the students consider and try to resolve scientifically while
working together in groups. Half of each semester is devoted
to a project and the remaining half to courses [12], [13]. Each
group, typically consisting of six students, has their own group
room equipped with computer terminals, which serves as their
base from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. every day. The learning theory is so-
cial constructivist and based on Cowan’s ideas about reflection
in the learning process [14].
In the work presented here, students have to decide at the
beginning of the term between the old or the new method for
their laboratory lessons. If the newmethod is chosen, the student
must continue attending theory lessons in the classroom, but
s/he must not attend the formal laboratory sessions. Instead, s/he
is given free access to lab facilities in order to design, build and
test the prototype.
The lecturer acts as a contractor. He asks the students (acting
as subcontractors) to design and implement a fully functional
device that covers all the topics reviewed in the theory lessons
(amplifiers, filters, comparators, clippers, clampers, rectifiers
and oscillators, as well as other electronic circuits covered
in earlier modules). The first classes are spent creating a
step-by-step design of the final product: the specifications and
main functions are described, and a functional block diagram
(phrased in general terms, not in electronic concepts as yet)
is conceived. This block diagram is reviewed systematically
during the term, whenever an electronic circuit or system fits
any block of the diagram. This policy means that students find
the explanation of circuits and ideas to be useful because they
Fig. 1. Requisition form for components.
can see a direct application. In addition, the start-to-finish de-
sign, from block diagram until final implemented circuit, helps
students in the task of determining, solving and grasping prob-
lems. Another benefit is that the students must pay particular
attention in class in order to complete the proposed prototype.
In this “simulated company,” the lecturer also acts as a con-
sultant, when students need to solve any practical or design
problem related to the device. The time spent by the lecturer
on solving problems or helping students to make the prototype
work is noted; later, when the prototype cost is evaluated, this
help is converted to “virtual money” and added to the final cost.
This method penalizes students who rely excessively on the lec-
turer to solve problems, and benefits those who try to find solu-
tions by themselves. On the other hand, if students rely totally on
themselves for the design, incorrect designs or methods might
only be discovered at the end of the term. Therefore, an auditing
task is also undertaken by the lecturer. During six sessions of
2.5 hours, the lecturer reviews the designs and circuits, and ad-
vises the students as to possible errors or mistakes. Therefore,
the lecturer is responsible for ensuring that each group’s design
is correct and that the final prototype is a working unit.
Finally, the lecturer also acts as vendor. Every component
needed is ordered from the lecturer. Fig. 1 shows a component
Fig. 2. Scalable prototype boards.
requisition form (translated into English). Educational labora-
tories have a reasonably good stock of the most common and
popular components required for practical lessons, so this is a
good reference for the students. The electronics lecturer always
provides a list of available components and their prices at the
beginning of the term. For an objective treatment of resources,
these prices are drawn from common, independent component
distributors (in 2006 the price list fromFarnell was used) [15]. If
the students need an exceptional component, not available in the
repository, the lecturer, acting as contractor, has the authority to
authorize or deny the purchase of this component, on the basis
of the students’ reasoning. If the purchase is approved, the price
is increased from the official price list by 50%, in considera-
tion of shipping costs, prices for small quantities and so on, and
a warning is given of the time penalty that may be incurred if
shipment is delayed, to ensure that students take these draw-
backs into account.
At all times, the students have free access to standard data
sheets, application books and computers with Internet access,
and they are encouraged to use them in order to find the compo-
nents or circuits best suited to the design. As previously men-
tioned, the laboratory sessions act as control sessions for the
The final prototype is usually implemented on prototype
boards, which can be easily expanded, so the blocks are assem-
bled on several boards and interconnected in the final stages,
as can be seen in Fig. 2. If the students wish, a printed board
is also built (mainly to give them encouragement, and with no
additional cost for the final prototype).
During 2005 the recommended size of the student working
group was three people, although several groups of two or four
people were allowed in exceptional cases. Each work group had
to nominate a project manager who was responsible for the de-
sign and task management. Task assignment is a critical aspect
in this kind of practice [16]. Experience has proven that, most
of the time, when students work in pairs, one carries out all the
work. This problem may increase when work groups increase
in size. In order to avoid this problem, the lecturer comments
on the importance of sharing tasks during the development of
Fig. 3. Block diagram of the R detector.
the project. At the end of the term, each group must defend the
design and its implementation in a public session. The lecturer
may question any team member, or may change the speaker, in
order to measure the degree of integration of every student in the
group. Additionally, each group presents a report where task as-
signment is described, and schematics, design notes, and every
important design aspect are detailed.
A student’s mark for this practical part is decided based on
the cost of the prototype (including material and consulting ser-
vices, 25% of the mark awarded), specifications achieved (40%
of the mark awarded), final report (20% of the mark awarded)
and public presentation (15% of the mark awarded). This prac-
tical mark counts towards 25% of the student’s total mark, with
the other 75% being for the traditional theory test that every stu-
dent takes at the end of the semester.
In 2006, the second year in which this pedagogic method was
implemented, the proposed prototype was an acoustical output
QRS detector, as can be found in [17]. The system accepts an
input of an amplified standard electrocardiogram (ECG) (1Vpp
from a Dinatech ECG simulator), and must process the signal
to detect the R peak of the signal and give a visual and audio
output when the R signal is detected. If no peaks are detected
within a predetermined time (10 seconds), a different and loud
audio alarm must be fired. The block diagram of the system,
shown in Fig. 3, comprises filters, pulse electronic systems, os-
cillators, and power audio amplifiers, which are the main elec-
tronic blocks in the module. Additional design aspects (such as
low power consumption, accuracy, low battery signals, etc.) can
be observed by students, but lie outside the scope of the module.
Nevertheless, students are encouraged to be aware of these as-
The system was implemented for the second time during
2006, and has meant a major change in the classical concept
of practical lessons in this engineering degree. Students have
shown a great deal of interest in this method, compared with
the usual laboratory lessons, probably due to the innovative
approach and the freedom allowed by the system. Nevertheless,
some crucial drawbacks were detected, all of which were
predicted to a greater or lesser extent. One problem was the
considerable freedomconferred on students, which often means
that they embark upon the design carelessly, usually at the end
of term. Since the natural burden of work for students increases
at this time, students may decide to postpone some modules
for the following year or dedicate more time to other subjects,
so the initial motivation fades out along the semester. Despite
being expected, this issue was nevertheless quite hard to solve.
During the term, the lecturer tried to drive the work of the
students to ensure that most of the work was completed by
the end of term. The difficulty with this was that some of the
necessary circuits are only explained in the final stages of the
course. Another direct consequence of this drawback was that
some students abandoned the design project, with the result that
the design teams became weak and in some cases two teams
had to be merged in order to finish the prototype. Although
some changes in teams are common in the industrial world,
the excessive number of students withdrawing from the project
complicated the task of development for other students. Another
issue detected in 2006, but one that could be controlled, was
the problem of detecting the true amount of work carried out
by each team member, and to detect noncollaborative students
within a team. As previously indicated, the lecturer dealt with
this by randomly asking the team members questions during
a public presentation of the project. Additionally, the team
manager is responsible for task and member management, so
this kind of training has been revealed as beneficial.
A survey was filled in by the students when the project was
finished. The answers were used to improve the following year’s
methodology. The survey consisted of five questions about the
new practical method and a free text field. Table I shows the
translation of the 2005 survey.
In 2005, 43 surveys were taken. The results can be seen in
Fig. 4. All responses had high values, so it can be inferred that
students consider the proposed method as valuable for their ed-
ucation. With respect to Questions 1 and 5, most of the students
consider the approach more useful than the classical one, and
would recommend it to other subjects. Questions 2 and 4 are
centred on a value of 4, so students consider that the method
improves their learning and skills in electronics. Nevertheless,
the high values in Question 3 reflect that students feel that the
burden of work has increased. The authors estimate that student
time in the laboratory increased by 50%.
During the period 2005–2006, 57 students out of a total of
268 in the module finished the final prototype; 31 students aban-
doned the initial project. Students who did not pass the prototype
design had to pass a practical test in order to pass the subject.
Official surveys by the University of Valencia, Valencia,
Spain, were also examined in order to assess the impact of
the new methods in students’ opinion. These official surveys
contain 14 questions about theoretical lessons and another 14
for practical lessons. There are three specific questions about
material and methods in both surveys (Table II). It is valuable
to note that the results of the surveys have improved in this area
during the 2005–2006 period. It should be taken into account
that during 2006, only 43 students applied to follow the new
method (approximately 30%), so their influence on the survey
Fig. 4. Responses to the survey questions of Table I.
was small. Nevertheless, results improved, mainly in 2006, and
this change could reflect the new approach towards practical
Future implementations of the project will incorporate new
ideas to increase student retention. The size of the teams will
be constrained at three, or very exceptionally, four students. At
the beginning of the module, the system will be explained to the
students and they will have about one month to decide if they
wish to embark on the design. Students with no interest or avail-
ability for the project (approximately 5%of students are actually
working, and most of them can not attend lessons) will have to
pass a practical test at the end of the termand they can attend the
laboratory for voluntary practical sessions. Students who em-
bark on projects will not have to pass the aforementioned prac-
tical test. Giving up the project will mean that they will have to
pass another closely related practical test. Teams finishing the
prototype will be considered as “test passed with honourable
The system presented here has been evaluated as quite in-
teresting and valuable for students. This approach avoids arti-
ficial practical work and proposes a more real-life approach to
problems, taking into account factors such as cost of develop-
ment, collaborative work, consulting issues, team management,
task distribution, etc. The presented practical approach brings
the activities in the university closer to the industrial world. The
system also impels students to develop more responsible atti-
tudes, learning to solve problems by themselves without the pro-
tective cloak of the lecturer. Moreover, it is a good starting point
for students to become acquainted with project development, a
compulsory module in the third year of the degree. The expe-
rience has been very productive and useful, and authors expect
to expand the system to other modules in the degree that are
closely related to hardware electronics.
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Rafael Magdalena received the M.S. and the Ph.D. degrees in physics from the
University of Valencia, Valencia, Spain, in 1991 and 2000, respectively.
He has been a Labour Lecturer of electronic engineering with the Univer-
sity of Valencia for the last ten years. Previously, he was a Lecturer with the
Politechnic University of Valencia and a Funded Researcher with the Research
Association in Optics. He has held industrial positions with several Spanish elec-
tromedicine and information technology companies. He has conducted research
and authored works in biomedical engineering and telemedicine. Currently, he
teaches courses in analog and digital electronic design.
Antonio J. Serrano received the B.S. and M.S. degrees in physics and the Ph.D.
degree in electronics engineering from the University of Valencia, Valencia,
Spain, in 1996, 1998, and 2002, respectively.
He is currently an Associate Professor in the Electronics Engineering De-
partment, University of Valencia. His research interest is in machine learning
methods for biomedical signal processing. Currently, he teaches courses in
analog electronic design and digital signal processing.
Jose D. Martín-Guerrero received the B.S. degree in physics and the B.S.,
M.S., and Ph.D. degrees in electronics engineering from the University of Va-
lencia, Valencia, Spain, in 1997, 1999, 2001, and 2004, respectively.
He is currently an Assistant Professor in the Department of Electronic Engi-
neering, University of Valencia. His teaching is focused on basic analog elec-
tronics. His research interests include soft-computing and its application to dif-
ferent fields, such as medicine, image processing, marketing, and Web mining.
Dr. Martín-Guerrero is a member of the European Neural Network Society.
Alfredo Rosado received the B.S. and Ph.D. degrees in physics from the Uni-
versity of Valencia, Valencia, Spain, in 1993 and 2000, respectively.
He is currently a Lecturer and Researcher in the Department of Electronic
Engineering, University of Valencia. His work is related to automation systems
and digital hardware design in several fields.
Marcelino Martinez received the B.S. and Ph.D. degrees in physics from the
University of Valencia, Valencia, Spain, in 1992 and 2000, respectively.
He is an Associate Professor in the Digital Signal Processing Group, Depart-
ment of Electronics Engineering, University of Valencia, where he has been
employed since 1994. He has worked on several industrial projects with private
companies (in the areas such as industrial control, real-time signal processing,
and digital control) and with public funds (in the areas of foetal electrocar-
diography and ventricular fibrillation). His research interests include real- time
signal processing, digital control using DSP, and biomedical signal processing,
with special interest in developing real-time algorithms for noninvasive foetal
electrocardiogram extraction.

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