Video Project Development in the Midst of an Impromptu Online Semester

Receiving robot parts in the mail was an unexpected conclusion to the Winter 2020 semester for students. However, when faced with a unique situation, innovative solutions were required, and the instructors of EECS 373: Introduction to Embedded System Design rose to the challenge.

With the sudden transition to online learning in March due to the impact of the coronavirus, instructors had to rapidly reimagine their semester plans. Converting lectures, labs, and exams to an online format was an urgent task, and this was especially demanding for courses that heavily relied on physical components and hands-on projects.

EECS 373 was among those courses. It educates students about the fundamentals of designing embedded systems, which are specialized computing devices distinct from typical computers. These systems encompass the smart devices found in many households, sensing systems, and the computers integrated into automobiles and other intricate machinery. In EECS 373, students acquire skills in working with the sensors, actuators, wireless communication, and computing elements that contribute to the resilience of these systems.

The course typically concludes with a final design project, usually executed in small groups and presented during a public demonstration at the semester’s end. In an effort to ensure students don’t miss out on their hands-on experience, the course instructors swiftly devised an alternative plan, which involved students constructing robots from home.

Prof. Ron Dreslinski, the course’s primary instructor, explained the traditional process: students would form groups, collaboratively devise solutions for embedded systems challenges, work on problem statements, select components, construct systems, and troubleshoot issues.

Transitioning to remote learning presented difficulties in sharing physical projects. Therefore, during the spring break, the course instructors began to prepare for the possibility of finishing the semester remotely by researching component kits that could be sent to the students.

Each student received a kit containing components and was tasked with transforming them into an autonomous robot capable of detecting and moving toward the brightest source of light in a room while avoiding obstacles. As they progressed, they had to familiarize themselves with the components by studying accompanying datasheets. The kit included a light sensor, ultrasonic distance sensor, analog-to-digital converter, robot chassis, h-bridge motor controller, servo motor for sensor rotation, and a Nucleo development board.

Dreslinski mentioned, “The students still had to read and interpret the datasheets and figure out how to integrate the pieces. We left the problem description vague, so that students had to define the corner cases and solution.”

Although the project’s scale was smaller compared to traditional group projects, it was challenging enough for an individual student to tackle. Students recorded presentations and demonstrations of their final designs to submit their work.

Dreslinski expressed satisfaction with the results given the time constraints but believes that future planning can alleviate issues related to waiting for parts and assembling kits. He said, “With more lead time, if we needed to do this again in the fall, we would be able to select a wider range of sensors to provide, as well as make the problem even more open-ended.”

The project was well-received by students, as evidenced in course feedback, with many appreciating the opportunity to apply their semester-long learning despite the unexpected shift in plans.

The leadership of EECS 373 included Dreslinski, with Dr. Matt Smith serving as the lab instructor, and undergraduate students Tejas Harith, Mayukh Nath, Ritika Sibal, Alexander Skillin, and David Waier assisting in instructional roles.

Source: Video Project Development in the Midst of an Impromptu Online Semester

About The Author

Ibrar Ayyub

I am an experienced technical writer holding a Master's degree in computer science from BZU Multan, Pakistan University. With a background spanning various industries, particularly in home automation and engineering, I have honed my skills in crafting clear and concise content. Proficient in leveraging infographics and diagrams, I strive to simplify complex concepts for readers. My strength lies in thorough research and presenting information in a structured and logical format.

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