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Teaching Arduino With Hands-On Experience Over A Distance


With advances in electronic and digital technologies in the past few decades, there is a growing trend of embedding microcontrollers in products in our everyday life, especially those which can connected to other devices nearby as well as to the Internet (broadly known as Internet-of-Things, IoTs). It is increasingly important for designers to gain experience in microcontroller-based systems as well as IoTs to prepare them for designing new products. Arduino is an open-source ecosystem for development of microcontroller-based systems founded in 2005, and has been gaining lot of interests from a wide audience, ranging from hobbyists, makers, designers, artists, as well as technologists. From Feb 2020 till May 2020, we were running a 13-week course called Digital Literacy for Designers the first time for first year degree students in our undergraduate degree programme, with the aim to let design students to gain hands-on experience on digital technologies so as to prepare them for designing future products. One key component in this course is on programming and building microcontroller-based systems using Arduino. A key challenge is that most design students do not have any prior experience in working with technologies, and many of them do not have enough confidence in learning technology. With this knowledge in mind, our original plan was to offer as many hands-on experiences to students as possible in workshops with small number of students so as to improve their learning experience and build up their confidence. However, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, we were forced to deliver our whole course without any face-to-face teaching, which created a lot more challenges in this subject. This paper reports our experience in organizing online lessons and workshops to support students to gain hands-on experience in building a microcontroller-based system (using breadboarding) at home individually (without any team work and without any face-to-face support). We mailed a kit with a microcontroller, two breadboards, some wires, and components including fixed value and variable resistors, LEDs, buzzers and light dependent resistors for them to assemble their own circuit at home. In brief, our approach involves three stages: (1) learning basic skills through simulator, (2) setting up development environment, and (3) actually hands-on experience in building a microcontroller-based system. In (1), we used TinkerCad Circuit, which prepared students on basic knowledge in electrical circuit as well as breadboarding, which facilitate their physical work at home individually later. In (2), we made sure development environment (Arduino IDE and associated libraries) was installed properly in each student’s own computer at home, so that they can do some slight modification of a program we provided and compile and upload to the microcontroller in the kit. The microcontroller we are using is ESP8266, which supports WiFi communication. With our provided program and proper setup, the microcontroller can be communicated using the MQTT protocol, which allowed us to remotely monitor and support each student at home when they encountered technical issue. With the preparations in (1) and (2), step (3) can be running smoothly. Students feedback at the end of the course indicated high-level of satisfaction, and students were able to make use on what they learned to create functional system. Our experience indicated that it is possible to offer authentic hands-on experience without any face-to-face teaching sessions, and we would like to conclude our experience through this paper which can shed lights on how to successfully run similar course without any face-to-face session in the future.