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Using Microservices to Modularize Components and Teaching Assistant Development Teams for a Robotics Design Project Computer System

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Conference

2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition

Location

Tampa, Florida

Publication Date

June 15, 2019

Start Date

June 15, 2019

End Date

June 19, 2019

Conference Session

Technical Session 13: Digital Learning

Tagged Division

Computers in Education

Page Count

10

DOI

10.18260/1-2--33508

Permanent URL

https://peer.asee.org/33508

Download Count

192

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Paper Authors

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Jared Dean Mitten Ohio State University Orcid 16x16 orcid.org/0000-0002-4937-7365

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Jared D. Mitten is a Computer Science and Engineering (CSE) major at The Ohio State University and is currently an Undergraduate Teaching Assistant with the Fundamentals of Engineering for Honors (FEH) program. He is a lead developer for several software systems used by the FEH program, including the robot course scoring system and the online robot part store. He will graduate in December 2019 with his B.S in CSE with a focus on data management in the cloud.

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Andrew Phillips Ohio State University

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Andrew Phillips graduated summa cum laude from The Ohio State University in May 2016 with a B.S. in Electrical and Computer Engineering and with Honors Research Distinction and again in December 2018 with a M.S. in Electrical and Computer Engineering. He is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in Engineering Education at The Ohio State University. His engineering education interests include first-year engineering, active learning, learning theory, and teaching. His current dissertation topic is the training and skill development of teaching assistants. As a Graduate Teaching Associate for the Fundamentals of Engineering for Honors program, he is heavily involved with developing and teaching laboratory content, leading the maintenance of the in-house robotics controller, and managing the development of the robotics project.

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Kathleen A. Harper Ohio State University

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Kathleen A. Harper is a senior lecturer in the Department of Engineering Education at The Ohio State University. She received her M. S. in physics and B. S. in electrical engineering and applied physics from Case Western Reserve University, and her Ph. D. in physics from The Ohio State University. She has been on the staff of Ohio State’s University Center for the Advancement of Teaching, in addition to teaching in both the physics and engineering education departments. She is currently a member of the ASEE Board of Directors' Advisory Committee on P-12 Engineering Education and ASEE's Projects Board.

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Richard J. Freuler Ohio State University

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Richard J. (Rick) Freuler is a Professor of Practice and the Director for the Fundamentals of Engineering for Honors (FEH) Program in Ohio State's Department of Engineering Education in the College of Engineering. He teaches the two-semester FEH engineering course sequence and is active in engineering education research. He is also affiliated with the Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering Department and conducts scale model investigations of gas turbine installations for jet engine test cells and for marine and industrial applications of gas turbines at the Aerospace Research Center at Ohio State. Dr. Freuler earned his Bachelor of Aeronautical and Astronautical Engineering (1974), his B.S. in Computer and Information Science (1974), his M.S. in Aeronautical Engineering (1974), and his Ph.D. in Aeronautical and Astronautical Engineering (1991) all from The Ohio State University.

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Abstract

This paper describes the use of a microservices architecture for separation of concerns in a complex hardware and software system which runs multiple components of a robotics design project. At a large Midwestern university, this robotics project serves as a cornerstone design experience in a two-semester first-year engineering honors course sequence. Student teams must design, construct, and program autonomous robots to navigate and complete tasks on a themed course. This extensive robot course system is operated entirely electronically with a system of hardware sensors, outputs, boards, and several pieces of software that track the state and score of each task in real-time. The students operate their robot via a programmable robotics controller that communicates wirelessly with the course system. All the software and hardware components of the course computer system and robot controller are developed and maintained by teams of graduate and undergraduate teaching assistants with technical experience in these areas, and the components must all communicate efficiently so that students have the smoothest experience possible.

Managing the complexity of this large computer system is a challenge since several software and hardware components must interact. Microservices allow for a reduction in overall system complexity by structuring it into a collection of loosely coupled components. The individual components are smaller in size and are more easily developed and maintained by specialized teams of teaching assistants. This microservices architecture allows several specialized teams to design, develop, and maintain different software and hardware pieces of the robot course simultaneously. By implementing principles of separation of concerns, the system is modularized and aids with debugging by narrowing the scope of issues that can occur. Additionally, the reduced scope of the individual components makes it easier to explore and implement new innovative design features. Finally, this system allows for onboarding of new teaching assistant team members who may have little or no experience because they are only responsible for learning how a single component works. All these advantages of microservices and separation of concerns allow the teaching assistants to construct an entirely new course scenario every year in a timely and modular manner while strengthening their technical and team working skills.

Thus, the goals of this paper are to describe the modular team structure for the development and maintenance of this large robotics course computer system, and to use data from recent years to show the benefits of this structure on the skill development of teaching assistants and on the design experience for the students.

Mitten, J. D., & Phillips, A., & Harper, K. A., & Freuler, R. J. (2019, June), Using Microservices to Modularize Components and Teaching Assistant Development Teams for a Robotics Design Project Computer System Paper presented at 2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Tampa, Florida. 10.18260/1-2--33508

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