Do Engineering: The NI Approach to Engineering Education

Publish Date: Apr 03, 2014 | 7 Ratings | 4.43 out of 5 | Print


At National Instruments, we believe that hands-on learning is what solidifies theoretical concepts and prepares students for industry or advanced research. Skills learned in the classroom paired with platforms that scale to industry prepare students to solve the grand challenges of tomorrow; at NI, we put this into practice by packaging industry-standard technology into education form factors and working with partners to develop courseware. Learn how the same industry-leading NI hardware and software technology used by more than 35,000 companies also improves education in more than 6,000 universities around the world.


Inspiring, Engaging, and Preparing the Next Generation of Innovators

The foundation of any successful career path or life decision is inspiration. Engagement and preparation are what take that inspiration and turn it into something applicable. And realization is achieving something great, something equal or better to the very thing that inspired you in the first place—in fact, the realization of your goals just might be the inspiration for someone else who is just getting started. Our society depends on this cycle to continue the success of the human race. We need the children of tomorrow to be inspired to pursue greatness, our elders and educators to facilitate this preparation, and our economy and market to help people realize their goals and vision. So is it safe to assume that this cycle is in place for all careers and professions?

Figure 1. The cycle of Inspiration, Engagement, Preparation, and Realization


It is safe to say that there is a surplus of inspiration for our children to grow up to be professional athletes, just turn on the television or go to a professional sporting event and you will be inspired. The same is true for musicians—just turn on the radio or go to the orchestra. And science and engineering is full of inspiration from renewable energy to electronic gadgets, and even rockets launched into space. So then why is there such a shortage of scientists and engineers around the world? The problem is in the preparation. The preparation for future scientists and engineers has turned into a hands-off barrage of theory and equations that extinguishes even the brightest of flames. This gauntlet of mathematics and computer simulation prevents students from actually experiencing the physical phenomena that keeps them engaged. They never actually get to “do engineering.”

Figure 2. Mathematics and Computer Simulation Gauntlet


But it doesn’t have to be this way. Let’s take a lesson from learning a musical instrument. When a child goes to the Sydney Opera House and hears the xylophone for the first time, she becomes inspired to play it. So what do her parents do for her? Buy her reams of sheet music and force her to first learn how to read musical notes before she ever gets to actually play the xylophone? No, they do not. They buy her a bright, multicolored xylophone that fits her perfectly at her age. She can chew on it, drop it, play it, and not worry about breaking it. She learns a few basic things about making noise, and then progresses nicely throughout her childhood learning on this platform of a mallet and planks to make music until she majors in music at the university level. When she eventually tries out for the Sydney Opera House orchestra, she has all the skills that she needs to land the first chair.

Figure 3. Learning to Play a Xylophone


And the same is true for learning to ride a bike. You actually have to get on the bike to learn how to ride it, but that doesn’t mean that you start with a racing bike. You get a tricycle at first, and then progress to a bicycle with training wheels. When you are ready, you take off the training wheels and add on a set of gears, and finally you move up to a racing bike and “go for the gold.” 

Figure 4. Learning to Ride a Bicycle


If we want to keep students inspired throughout their engineering education and prepare them for the jobs of tomorrow that don’t  exist today, we have to provide hands-on tools and applicable, real-world experiences along the way that motivate them to continue. At NI, we have created an educational continuum that parallels the progression of learning to play an instrument or ride a bicycle. This continuum consists of NI LabVIEW graphical system design software combined with scalable hardware platforms for each stage of engineering education, from kindergarten to rocket science.

Figure 5. Do Engineering: The NI Approach to Engineering Education


We know that textbooks, theory, and simulation are important for science and engineering education, but they do not have to be the only experience. Students can learn fundamental concepts and build up to more complex systems, with hands-on project work throughout that helps to solidify the textbook theory. 

This begins with robotics programs using LEGO® MINDSTORMS® hardware that is powered by LabVIEW software in primary schools. Students then progress into more advanced programs using LabVIEW with NI reconfigurable I/O (RIO) platforms in secondary schools to build more advanced robots in programs such as FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) and WRO (World Robot Olympiad). When students enter university, they learn fundamental engineering and system design concepts using LabVIEW and NI Multisim with our education hardware products built on industry technology such as NI myDAQ, NI myRIO, NI USRP™ (Universal Software Radio Peripheral), and the NI Educational Laboratory Virtual Instrumentation Suite (NI ELVIS). And when they graduate and continue into advanced research or industry, they join one of the more than 35,000 companies using LabVIEW and NI hardware to solve the engineering grand challenges.

By partnering with NI, your students will “do engineering.” Browse our academic hardware section to learn how NI myDAQ, NI myRIO, NI ELVIS, and industry hardware such as NI CompactDAQ, CompactRIO, USRP, and more can be used to enhance education at your academic institution.

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