We have designed, implemented and deployed a Massive Open Online Class (MOOC) with a substantial lab component within the edX platform. If MOOCs are truly going to transform the education, then they must be able to deliver laboratory classes. This offering goes a long way in unraveling the perceived complexities in delivering a laboratory experience to tens of thousands of students from all around the globe. We believe the techniques developed in this class will significantly transform the MOOC environment. Effective education requires students to learn by doing. In the traditional academic setting this active learning is delivered in a lab format. A number of important factors have combined that allow a lab class like this to be taught at this time. First, we have significant support from industrial partners ARM Inc and Texas Instruments. Second, the massive growth of embedded microcontrollers has made the availability of lost-cost development platforms feasible. Third, we have assembled a team with the passion, patience, and experience of delivering quality lab experiences to large classes. Fourth, on-line tools now exist that allow students to interact and support each other. We are using edX for the delivery of videos, interactive animations, text, and quizzes.
An embedded system combines mechanical and electrical components along with a computer, hidden inside, to perform a single dedicated purpose. The overall educational objective of this class is to allow students to discover how the computer interacts with its environment. The course provides hands-on experiences of how an embedded system could be used to solve problems. Active learning requires a platform for the student to learn by doing.
In a typical embedded system lab, the student combines mechanical and electrical components interfacing them to a microcontroller to create a system. The student writes software that is loaded onto a microcontroller which then performs a specific and dedicated task. To get a grade the student demonstrates the lab solution to the teaching assistant. There are three tasks the TA performs: first the TA must control the process by asking questions or requesting the solution perform appropriate tasks, second the TA must observe the actions and reactions, and third the TA must judge whether the solution achieved the desired outcome. We have captured these three TA-tasks by developing a suite of software plug-ins that run inside the compiler-debugger and additional software that resides in the microcontroller itself.
The class was successfully delivered twice with over 72,000. Over 11,000 completed at least one lab requiring the physical kit. Even though there was a $40-$50 cost to purchase the lab kit, the course completion numbers were slightly better than a typical MOOC; 5,300 students completed enough of the class to receive a certificate (7.3%). Students completing end of the course surveys report a 95% overall satisfaction. Demographics show a world-wide reach with the US, Europe, and India the most popular. In this paper we will present best practices, successes and limitations of teaching a substantial lab across the globe.
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