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Preparing Undergraduate Engineering Students for the Internet of Things

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2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


New Orleans, Louisiana

Publication Date

June 26, 2016

Start Date

June 26, 2016

End Date

August 28, 2016





Conference Session

Electrical and Computer Division Poster Session

Tagged Division

Electrical and Computer

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Paper Authors


Samuel J. Dickerson University of Pittsburgh Orcid 16x16

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Dr. Samuel Dickerson is an assistant professor at the University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering. His general research interests lie in the area of electronics, circuits and embedded systems and in particular, technologies in those areas that have biomedical applications. He has expertise in the design and simulation of mixed-signal integrated circuits and systems that incorporate the use of both digital and analog electronics, as well as optics, microfluidics and devices that interface to the biological world. Dr. Dickerson also has a strong interest in enhancing undergraduate engineering education, and investigates new and innovative methods for improving the learning experience for electrical and computer engineering students.

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The arrival of the Internet of Things (IoT) has brought about a world where the everyday objects we interact with, ranging from health monitoring devices to kitchen appliances and even toys, are embedded with intelligence and the ability to communicate over a network. The growth of IoT has been tremendous and it is estimated that in the near future the amount of networked “things” will number in the tens of billions. Preparing undergraduate engineering students to be participants in this burgeoning subject area presents a unique challenge as the IoT itself is only vaguely defined. Designing devices that will be part of the IoT requires knowledge from a broad spectrum of technical areas including analog and digital communications, information theory, networking protocols, microcontrollers and electronics, electromagnetics, and more. That breadth of subject matter runs counter to the increasingly narrow focus of Electrical and Computer Engineering tracks and programs where enrolling in courses that cover that span is not practical for students. In trying to prepare students for the IoT, some of the questions that arise are: Which topics should be selected and where in the curriculum should they be presented to them? In what context should the topics be presented to them? Also, how should we teach students about IoT in a way that is accessible, while maintaining enough depth of coverage that students have confidence in their ability to contribute to the future of the field?

We’ve addressed these questions by revamping our introductory computer networking course, gearing all of the selected topics toward the IoT. Our approach is to take the students through the evolution of wireless networks past and present, starting from early radio communication and cellular networks, to medium and short range wireless computer networks and then to active and passive RFID networks. Each specific network type is not covered extensively, but rather a few key technologies from each network are selected and covered in depth, thereby creating a conceptual “toolbox” of IoT techniques and methods for the student. Along the way, topics typically not included in traditional networking courses, but important to the IoT, such as microcontroller interfaces, antenna design and RFID energy harvesting principles are introduced to the students.

In this paper, a detailed overview of this newly developed course and its content is presented. In addition, we show how the structure of the course makes it especially well-suited to address one of the more challenging ABET student outcomes to assess, outcomes dealing with the impact of engineering solutions in a global and societal context. Finally, the degree to which we are meeting our student learning objectives is evaluated using the results of student opinion surveys and a direct assessment of student work.

The authors have no preference between a regular oral presentation or a poster session presentation

Dickerson, S. J. (2016, June), Preparing Undergraduate Engineering Students for the Internet of Things Paper presented at 2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, New Orleans, Louisiana. 10.18260/p.25953

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