Update June 16, 2020
The three courses we present in this blog post will be at the center of technical sessions during the upcoming ASEE Virtual Conference that will take place between June 22 and June 26, 2020. Professor Yifeng Zhu will offer a presentation on moving embedded systems lab courses online using mini-drones and lab-in-a-box kits. Thanks to his course on low lever firmware programming with a drone, he’s the best person to talk about using such a kit to teach embedded systems remotely. The notions that his coursework covers are deep and technical, but his experience during this global pandemic remains, overall, very positive.
Similarly, professor William Kaiser will hold a talk on success in remote hands-on engineering instruction with new IoT and control systems platforms. Thanks to his courses on motor control and machine learning on embedded systems, he is uniquely positioned to share his experience. The new STEVAL-EDUKIT01 he developed for his class on motor control offers a unique approach to a difficult subject matter. However, what is even more fascinating is the positive experiences he had with his students during this difficult time.
Original Text: April 14, 2020
We are announcing the launch of ST’s first Educational Platforms, a website compiling open curricula from leading University professors. We are also celebrating the public release of the rotary inverted pendulum we introduced at ASEE 2019, the STEVAL-EDUKIT01, which is going to be available for purchase on Digi-Key in the next few weeks. The courses entitled Internet of Things and Embedded Machine Learning and Motor Control and Control Systems are both from Professor William Kaiser (UCLA), and they teach the fundamentals of embedded systems and motor control, respectively. The open curriculum on Low-Level Firmware Programming with Drones, by Professor Yifeng Zhu (University of Maine), tackles the intricacies of embedded systems. All courses are available for free, and users also have access to our ST Community, should they wish to ask questions.
Educational Platforms, a Genesis Forged From Two Courses Published in 2018
The course on the Internet of Things originated from the Introduction to Embedded Systems with SensorTile that Professor Kaiser published in 2018. After his students’ capstone projects exhibited an innovative use of machine learning, even before ML on embedded systems was a buzzword, he updated the course to offer first-year students substantial foundations on neural networks, training, and inference on the microcontroller of our SensorTile (STEVAL-STLKT01V1) development platform. Professor Kaiser introduced his coursework on motor control at ASEE 2019. It relies on the STEVAL-EDUKIT01 to offer a platform that delves into deep concepts that very few undergraduate textbooks tackle, such as the origin of stability and instability. Additionally, the dynamic operation of a stepper motor in a control system is mostly undocumented, and the course aims to partly remedy this issue by using the pendulum as a teaching support.
Professor Zhu also introduced his course on embedded system programming with drones at ASEE 2019. It takes its inspiration from a course that he teaches on programming for embedded systems in C and Assembly with a 32L476GDISCOVERY board. The new coursework uses our STEVAL-DRONE01 kit to better appeal to students and to make the subject matter more relatable. As we visited the University of Maine last year, we came across students that had assisted Professor Zhu in the realization of this coursework and witnessed first-hand their impressive grasp of crucial and complex concepts. They told us how they used the SPI interface to process information from the drone’s gyroscope or how they managed the generation of a pulsed-width modulation signal by initializing timers and setting up registers on the microcontroller present on the drone kit.
Educational Platforms, an Answer to an Urgent and Critical Need for Remote and Hands-on Instruction
In our recent discussions, Professor Zhu and Professor Kaiser were quick to address the global pandemic that forced the closure of their respective campuses and obliged them to teach remotely, because it gave a highly symbolic value to the three curricula on Educational Platforms. As Professor Kaiser told us:
“We wouldn’t be able to offer these courses without their respective ST kits. For each of them, the students can own an inexpensive platform that enables them to take the course at home. We were able to quickly switch to remotely teaching our classes because students can take these inexpensive and powerful lab-in-a-box home and we’ve been working on these curricula and similar coursework for years, and were thus able to adapt to these new circumstances rapidly.”
They both agreed that the current situation already led to dramatic shifts in the way educators are now teaching these courses, and we can safely assume that these trends will continue even after the end of the pandemic. These courses are not traditional MOOCs with a series of fixed videos, a few labs, tests, and a forum. They are adaptable, and kits offer a very hands-on approach that is often absent in traditional MOOCs. As a result, educators can use the materials to teach and connect with their students remotely and in real-time, while any enthusiast looking to acquire these crucial and seminal notions can also get a kit and jump into each curriculum.
Educational Platforms, a Solution to Problems That Plague the System
The current pandemic is forcing professors to be creative, but the solutions they are offering today address a lot more than the current lockdowns. For instance, Professor Zhu explained that:
“Since students do not all have an oscilloscope at home, I use the logic analyzer in Keil to ensure that they can still see the changes in values over time. I also recently released new videos on YouTube that cover some the notions I cover in my textbook and classes to help students learn at their own pace.”
Here’s a great example that addresses the new realities under COVID-19 but also helps answer some of the challenges that offline classes faced even before the SARS-CoV-2 virus made headlines. Education Platforms alleviate the need for students to be physically present in a classroom at a specific time and at a particular place, which can be a struggle for establishments with limited resources and few lab rooms, as well as for students with busy schedules. This permits the instructor and students to meet remotely and in real-time with their hands-on kits. Instructors interact with the entire class and individuals by sharing screens and by viewing devices via shared video.
These three courses offer a way to adapt to the current pandemic and reach a new generation of students that are benefiting from our reevaluation of what educators can teach remotely. Obviously, universities will reopen, classes will resume, and there will always be some courses that students must take offline. Nonetheless, the work and innovative approaches from these professors demonstrate that the educational system may have underestimated what could be taught at home, but current events are rapidly fixing that, and ST is thrilled to work with universities toward a solution accessible to all.
Closing the Knowledge Gap Between Professionals and Students of All Ages
The open and free nature of the courses on our new Educational Platforms also means that the material is relevant for a much larger audience than first-year students taking electronics engineering. According to Professor Kaiser:
“Many engineers entering the workforce find themselves needing to learn STM32 microcontrollers, and Professor Zhu’s course is the way to go about it. There’s nothing else like it. Similarly, some professionals may need to grab a SensorTile and go over the Internet of Things coursework to understand sensors, Bluetooth LE, and have a solid foundation in IoT. Finally, whether it is someone at home looking to learn more about robotics or professionals delving into a digital motor actuator, the STEVAL-EDUKIT01 and the motor control curriculum offer a fast and unique way to learn as there is just no other educational program like it today.”
Professor Zhu shared another exciting benefit of the Educational Platform when he talked about the drone races his son likes to join and watch. A study published by the Center on Education Policy1 and cited by Successful STEM Education notes that children become interested in STEM careers as early as elementary school, which is far earlier than previously believed. If society hopes to have more diversity and more talent in the sciences, it is imperative to start as early as possible. Hence, a teacher can grab a drone kit, potentially take Professor Zhu’s course, adapt it for any grade since it is open, and see children enthusiastically control their drone while having the satisfaction that they programmed it themselves.