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Embedded Systems - Shape The World

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2014 ASEE International Forum


Indianapolis, Indiana

Publication Date

June 14, 2014

Start Date

June 14, 2014

End Date

June 14, 2014

Conference Session

Track 1 - Session 1

Tagged Topic

Curriculum and Lab Development

Page Count


Page Numbers

20.14.1 - 20.14.8



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Paper Authors


Jonathan W. Valvano University of Texas, Austin

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Dr. Jonathan Valvano is a professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at The University of Texas at Austin and holds the Engineering Foundation Centennial Teaching Fellowship in Electrical Engineering. He received his S.B. and S.M. in Electrical and Computer Engineering from MIT in 1977 and his Ph.D. in 1981 from the joint Harvard-MIT program in Medical Engineering and Medical Physics. He joined the faculty at The University of Texas at Austin in 1981 and has 32 years of experience in teaching and research. He has received numerous teaching awards and authored five widely-used textbooks on embedded microcomputer systems. He has co-founded a successful medical device company called Admittance Technologies. His research involves integrated analog/digital processing, low-power design, medical instrumentation, and real-time systems.

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Embedded Systems - Shape The World We have designed, implemented and deployed a Massive Open Online Class(MOOC) with a substantial lab component within the edX platform. If MOOCs are trulygoing to transform the education, then they must be able to deliver laboratory classes.This offering goes a long way in unraveling the perceived complexities in delivering alaboratory experience to tens of thousands of students from all around the globe. Webelieve the techniques developed in this class will significantly transform the MOOCenvironment. Effective education requires students to learn by doing. In the traditionalacademic setting this active learning is delivered in a lab format. A number of importantfactors have combined that allow a lab class like this to be taught at this time. First, wehave significant support from industrial partners ARM Inc and Texas Instruments.Second, the massive growth of embedded microcontrollers has made the availability oflost-cost development platforms feasible. Third, we have assembled a team with thepassion, patience, and experience of delivering quality lab experiences to large classes.Fourth, on-line tools now exist that allow students to interact and support each other. Weare using edX for the delivery of videos, interactive animations, text, and quizzes. We areusing Piazza for discussion boards and Zyante for a programming reference. We havepartnered with element-14, Digikey, and Mouser to make sure the lab kit is available andlow-cost: An embedded system combines mechanical and electrical components along witha computer, hidden inside, to perform a single dedicated purpose. The overall educationalobjective of this class is to allow students to discover how the computer interacts with itsenvironment. The course provides hands-on experiences of how an embedded systemcould be used to solve problems. Active learning requires a platform for the student tolearn by doing. In a typical embedded system lab, the student combines mechanical and electricalcomponents interfacing them to a microcontroller to create a system. The student writessoftware that is loaded onto a microcontroller which then performs a specific anddedicated task. To get a grade the student demonstrates the lab solution to the teachingassistant. There are three tasks the TA performs: first the TA must control the process byasking questions or requesting the solution perform appropriate tasks, second the TAmust observe the actions and reactions, and third the TA must judge whether the solutionachieved the desired outcome. We have captured these three TA-tasks by developing asuite of software plug-ins that run inside the compiler-debugger and additional softwarethat resides in the microcontroller itself. These software modules perform the control,observation and judgment to certify the student has completed the lab. The class launched January 22, with33,261 enrolled. Within 24 hours, 2926passed the first quiz, and 157 completed thefirst lab. Demographics show a world-widereach with the US, Europe, and India themost popular. In this paper we will presentbest practices, successes and limitations ofteaching a substantial lab across the globe.

Valvano, J. W. (2014, June), Embedded Systems - Shape The World Paper presented at 2014 ASEE International Forum, Indianapolis, Indiana. 10.18260/1-2--17177

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