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Harnessing State-of-the-art Internet of Things Labs to Motivate First-year Electrical and Computer Engineering Students

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2018 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Salt Lake City, Utah

Publication Date

June 23, 2018

Start Date

June 23, 2018

End Date

July 27, 2018

Conference Session

Electrical and Computer Division Technical Session 8

Tagged Division

Electrical and Computer

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Paper Authors


David John Orser University of Minnesota Orcid 16x16

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David Orser received his B.S. degree in electrical engineering from Minnesota State University, Mankato, MN, USA in 2000, his M.S. degree and his Ph.D. degree in electrical engineering at the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN, USA in 2007 and 2014 respectively. He is an assistant teaching professor at the University of Minnesota, where his focus is teaching circuits, IoT, and power electronics. He has worked in the high-speed analog IC design industry for IBM and Broadcom for over ten years. He holds five US patents, several publications, and has circuits in over a billion chips around the world. His current research interests include laboratory teaching pedagogy, matrix converters in electric drives, and the application of power electronics in HVDC power systems.

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Kia Bazargan University of Minnesota

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Kia Bazargan is an Associate Professor with the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the University of Minnesota. Has has published over 70 peer-reviewed papers and book chapters related to FPGAs and VLSI computer-aided design. He received his Bachelors degree in Computer Science from Sharif University, Tehran, Iran, and the MS and PhD degrees in Electrical and Computer engineering from Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois, in 1998 and 2000, respectively. He has served as an associate editor of the IEEE Transactions on CAD of Integrated Circuits and Systems, and as a guest coeditor of the ACM Transactions on Embedded Computing Systems Special Issue on Dynamically Adaptable Embedded Systems. He has served on the technical program committee of a number of IEEE/ACM sponsored conferences (e.g., Field Programmable Gate Array (FPGA), Field Programmable Logic (FPL), Design Automation Conference (DAC), International Conference on Computer-Aided Design (ICCAD), and Asia and South Pacific DAC). He served as the program chair of the FPGA'18. He has received a US National Science Foundation (NSF) Career Award.

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John Sartori University of Minnesota

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John Sartori received the B.S. degree in electrical engineering, computer science, and mathematics from the University of North Dakota, Grand Forks and the M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in electrical and computer engineering from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He is currently a professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities. His research focuses on computer architecture, computer aided design, embedded systems, and algorithm development, especially focused on energy-efficient computing, high-performance computing, stochastic computing, and application-aware design and architecture methodologies. John's research has been recognized by multiple best paper awards, an NSF CAREER award, and has been the subject of several keynote talks and invited plenary lectures. His work has been chosen to be the cover feature for popular media sources such as BBC News and HPCWire, and has also been covered extensively by scientific press outlets such as the IEEE Spectrum, IEEE Micro, and the Engineering and Technology Magazine.

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Engineering is about improving people's lives by creating solutions to real-world problems. There is a need, especially in diverse populations, to show first-year students that calculus and physics-based skills can be leveraged to create these solutions. Recently, the Internet of Things (IoT) movement has driven a cost reduction in intelligent network connected devices. IoT devices provide an accessible platform for using engineering to solve new and exciting real-world problems. It is hoped that by teaching the skills to connect electronics, programming, social media, and phone-based control with real-world physical solutions, students will gain a glimpse of the possibilities an engineering education provides. In addition, these useful and relevant skills may lead to heightened interest, motivation, diversity, and retention in Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE) students.

This work details the creation, implementation, and evaluation of an IoT Lab Module in a first-year introductory C++ programming course. The Particle Photon WiFi-enabled micro-controller platform which utilizes Arduino-like embedded-C programming, API-driven cloud functions, and a web-based development environment to provide a low-cost low-complexity IoT platform. The lab module consists of four hardware-based exercises. In addition to fundamental programming skills, students are taught to use sensors, actuators, and cloud communication, including integration with Google Docs, text messaging, and social media. Using class content and a system of online, self-taught ``device descriptions'' and ``quick lessons'', students submit project proposals and develop an IoT-based project. Student projects include a Google calendar-based alarm clock where the user must solve a challenge before silencing the alarm. Other projects included smart parking, home security, plant care, and a web-based automated brewing system. At the end of the semester, students showcase their projects to faculty, staff, and other students.

The IoT lab module was created to improve interest, motivation, diversity, and retention of students in ECE. Interest and motivation are tracked by University-wide Student Rating of Teaching (SRT) surveys. The results show a greater than one standard deviation improvement in student survey scores over a period of five semesters. In addition, course enrollment has risen. Retention of students (including diversity of retained students) will be evaluated when sufficient data are available.

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Orser, D. J., & Bazargan, K., & Sartori, J. (2018, June), Harnessing State-of-the-art Internet of Things Labs to Motivate First-year Electrical and Computer Engineering Students Paper presented at 2018 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Salt Lake City, Utah. 10.18260/1-2--30571

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