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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