My current areas of research include experiential learning, undergraduate instructional laboratories, and inclusive pedagogy.  

In my current research, I found the literature and research on instructional laboratories to be sparse.  There are many references to the importance of laboratory experiences for undergraduate STEM students. However, there is not a lot of detail about objectives, assessments, and student motivation in the laboratory.  Since laboratory experiences were important to me as a student, I would like to continue to study undergraduate instructional laboratories in more detail.  My research plan extends beyond innovative instruction methods into analyzing student outcomes and understanding students' motivation in the laboratory.  The results of this research could lead to changes in instructional laboratory practices across engineering programs and possibly to other disciplines or K-12 laboratories. 

Learning Objectives

It is important to have clearly defined learning objectives for laboratories, just as with other course components.  There have been previous studies that have identified high-level objectives for STEM instructional laboratories in higher education.  So far in my investigation, I have identified learning objectives for undergraduate control systems courses that were common across multiple institutions.  In the same study, I identified the common concepts and components of a laboratory apparatus.  This study led to the creation of the Control Systems Laboratory Framework (CSLF), which is a guide for future laboratory development and serves as a means to compare existing laboratories.
Laboratory experiments should be designed to support the students' ability to achieve the learning objectives.  Experiment design includes the instructions, equipment, and delivery method.  My investigation into experiment design will consider the types of instructions (e.g., cookbook, inquiry) that support learning.  A research question I would like to explore in this area is "what experiments in a laboratory promote learning?"


In order to determine if students are achieving the learning objectives in the laboratory, the students need to be assessed.  Laboratory reports and worksheets are common assignments.  However, these assignments are often completed by groups instead of individuals and even then may only provide an indirect assessment of learning objectives.  Laboratory practical exams and written tests, although not as common, can offer a direct assessment if the exam aligns with the objectives.  
In my previous research, I have experimented with several assessment instruments to capture accurate data about the achievement of learning objectives within engineering laboratories, as there is not an accepted methodology in the field.  I used a previously published control systems concept inventory and traditional course assessments (e.g., exams), alongside surveys, post-lab reflections, copies of graded laboratory reports, and focus groups \citep{AEE}.  While the exams and concept inventory reflected the lecture and field in general, they did not align closely with the learning objectives of the laboratory in particular.  For example, these assessments did not require laboratory-specific activities like tuning gains of a real system or the use of MATLAB and Simulink.  As such, these assessments may not have captured skills specific to the laboratory versus those skills developed beyond the laboratory.
As there does not seem to be a widely accepted practice of detailed laboratory assessment of student learning objectives, a research question I would like to explore in this area is "what are effective forms of assessment of laboratory learning objectives?"


Previous studies have shown that students' motivation drives what they do to learn.  Therefore, it is also important to investigate motivation in the laboratory.  In the post-lab reflections collected during my dissertation, students included some interesting statements about their expectations and feelings toward the laboratory experience.  While I did not directly ask them about their motivation, the reflections provided some insights into what may have increased and decreased their motivation.  
Given the connection between motivation and learning, a deeper and more deliberate probe into students' motivation within the laboratory would inform laboratory design.  The goal of this investigation is to determine if students' values align with learning objectives and what activities increase self-efficacy.  Research questions I would like to explore in this area are "what factors impact self-efficacy in the laboratory?"  and "what experiences do students value in the laboratory?"

Inclusive Pedagogy

Students enrolled in an instructional laboratory will have different abilities, prior experience, and expectations.  Combining the results of the research on objectives, assessment, and motivation with an existing inclusive pedagogy framework will provide a foundation for a new inclusive pedagogy framework for instructional laboratories.  This new framework will help bridge the gap between research and practice to provide other instructors with strategies to improve laboratories.  For example, these strategies could include a list of considerations for the physical space, best practices for providing experiment instructions, or ways to provide flexible assessment while maintaining academic standards.   As with the classroom, an instructional laboratory should be an inclusive and supportive learning environment for all students. 

Scholarship of Teaching

In addition to the research goals above, I also regularly review and adapt what I do in the classroom or laboratory.  For some of these innovations, I collect feedback and other data from students to share in conference papers and short journal papers.  More details on these projects are included in my blog.

Previous Research

Controls Course Laboratory Equipment Development

Affordable Lab Kit for Control Systems

My dissertation research has been inspired by the lack of hands-on laboratory experiments in my online master’s program.  As small, portable, and affordable computers and 3-D printing become readily available, I thought there was a unique opportunity to bring the laboratory into the homes of students in online courses in the form of a laboratory kit.  I have started to review the literature in this area and have found that there are also ways to integrate these types of kits into traditional on-campus programs as well.

The objective of my research is to replicate the educational functionality of a laboratory bench for an introductory control systems course with a kit that can be assembled for around $100. The basic components of my laboratory kit are a Raspberry Pi and a DC motor.

Engineering Education Pioneers Project

I am part of a team that is working on an NSF-funded project led by the Center for Engineering Learning and Teaching (CELT) at the University of Washington.  We set out to document the history and development of engineering education as an academic field. This study investigated the history through interviews of early leaders, or “pioneers.” The project paired engineering education pioneers with graduate students who conducted interviews about the pioneers’ paths. Our goal was to compile a pool of interview candidates who represent the diverse population of engineering education pioneers.  I interviewed Dr. Denny Davis, Professor Emeritus, and Director of the Engineering Education Research Center at Washington State University.  He is well known for his innovations in engineering design education.  His full profile is available on the project website with all of the other pioneers included in this project.

Regional Jet Automatic Throttle Systems

In this research, I modified a control law that I worked on at Rockwell Collins—designed to automatically move the throttles to control the airspeed of a jet—so that it would regulate the aircraft’s speed more loosely.  This change was inspired by a quirk I noticed in the response of my car’s cruise control as I followed a friend down the interstate.  While one car of our cars made many adjustments to maintain speed at the precise cruise setting, the other—a hybrid model designed for fuel efficiency—allowed the speed to drift. That got me thinking about ways to optimize an airplane's cruise control, which is one of the features of an autothrottle.  I wondered if similar fuel-saving concepts could be applied to aircraft, so I made it the starting point of my master’s research.

Using a generic aircraft simulation in Simulink, I measured the fuel flow in various flight conditions and compared my modified control law to other proposed techniques to save fuel during the longest phase of flight. Then I analyzed the data from my simulation to determine the most effective method for fuel-saving, which has the potential to improve the environment for everyone by reducing harmful emissions. My research was presented at the 2010 AIAA [email protected] conference and the paper published in the proceedings.

R. M. Johnson, "Using an Autothrottle to Compare Techniques for Saving Fuel on a Regional Jet," AIAA [email protected] 2010, Atlanta, Georgia, Apr. 20-22, 2010, AIAA-2010-3495 

Service and Outreach

Over the years, I have been involved with the community through professional service and outreach.  I became an ABET program evaluator for IEEE because I wanted to contribute to the quality and continuous improvement of engineering programs.  Additionally, I wanted to learn more about the accreditation process and learn from innovative ideas at other campuses.  I am an active member and volunteer in the American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE), because it is a great community of professionals interested in advancing engineering education.

I have been a member and volunteer in the Society of Women Engineers (SWE) for over ten years because I agree with the Society’s mission to support and encourage underrepresented groups in STEM fields and it provides several opportunities for professional development, networking, and outreach.  I have participated in several outreach events including judging for FIRST Robotics and Future Cities, planning and helping with a day-long workshop for Girl Scouts, and sat on panels for high school and college women interested in STEM careers.  I continue to build a network of diverse, inspiring, and encouraging individuals throughout the organization.  I have also served in leadership positions at the local and regional levels, where I have refined my leadership and teamwork skills.

For more detailed information about my responsibilities in these organizations, please see my curriculum vitae.


Graduation photo by Daniel M. Reck

I just completed my Ph.D. in Systems and Entrepreneurial Engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.  My coursework included control systems, system modeling, college teaching, project management, and creativity.  My research focused on applications of experiential learning in control systems and project management.  My completed dissertation can be found in the University of Illinois archives.  

Prior to that, I completed a Master of Science degree in Electrical Engineering at Iowa State University in 2010.  My coursework was focused on controls and systems and my thesis research centered on applications of optimal control in avionics. 

In 2005, I graduated with cum laude honors from Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Electrical Engineering.  My major coursework was in controls, signal processing, and communications.  I also earned a minor in mathematics.