Escola Superior de Estudos Industriais e de Gestão (PORTUGAL)
About this paper:
Appears in: ICERI2010 Proceedings
Publication year: 2010
Pages: 5178-5184
ISBN: 978-84-614-2439-9
ISSN: 2340-1095
Conference name: 3rd International Conference of Education, Research and Innovation
Dates: 15-17 November, 2010
Location: Madrid, Spain
Software tools in education became popular since the widespread of personal computers. Engineering courses lead the way in this development and these tools became almost a standard. Engineering graduates are familiar with numerical analysis tools but also in simulators (e.g. electronic circuits), computer assisted design tools and others, depending on the degree.
One of the main problems with using these tools is when and how to start use them so that they can be beneficial to students and not mere substitutes for potentially difficult calculations or design. In this paper a software tool to be used by first year students in electronics/electricity courses is presented.

The growing acknowledgment and acceptance of open source software lead to the choice of an open source software tool – SCILAB, which is a numerical analysis tool – to develop a toolbox. This allows students and institutions to use toolbox without any financial burden. Nonetheless, any other equivalent software could be used such as Matlab or Octave.

The toolbox was developed to be used as standalone or integrated in an e-learning platform. The e-learning platform used was Moodle.

The first approach was to assess the mathematical skill necessary to solve all the problems related to electronics and electricity courses. By the most part, in electronic circuit analysis, it is necessary to solve linear equation systems with 3 or more variables (sometimes in the complex domain) and solve numerical derivatives and integrals.
Furthermore, graphical results are a big part of electronics courses since it is often necessary to sketch a plot of the output signal (capacitor charge/discharge , diodes, etc), obtain vector diagrams (transient analysis) and Bode plots (frequency analysis).

Analyzing the existing circuit simulators software tools, it is clear that even though they are very helpful by showing the end result they are not so effective in the process of the students studying and self learning since they show results but not intermediate steps which are crucial in problems that involve derivatives or integrals. Also, they are not very effective in obtaining graphical results that could be used to elaborate reports and for an overall better comprehension of the results.

The developed tool was based on the numerical analysis software SCILAB and is a toolbox that gives their users the opportunity to obtain the end results of a circuits analysis but also the expressions obtained when derivative and integrals calculations are necessary, plot signals, obtain vector diagrams, etc. The toolbox runs entirely in the Moodle web platform and provides the same results as the standalone application. The students can use the toolbox through the web platform (in computers where they doesn't have installation privileges) or in is personal computer by installing both the SCILAB software and the toolbox.
This approach was designed for first year students from all engineering degrees that have electronics/electricity courses in their curricula.
Numerical analysis, SCILAB electronics toolbox, e-learning.