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Hands-on teaching with microcontrollers


Hands-on teaching with microcontrollers


Learning and Teaching Integration (LTI) is one of the key aspects introduced in the European Higher Education Area (EHEA) and the Bologna Process. In this sense, LTI pursues the development of inclusive student-centred approaches in order to promote quality education and teaching, student academic progression and a broader contribution to society. The previous idea supports higher education institutions and staff for the implementation and promotion of pedagogical innovations in student-centred learning environments in different ways, such as flipped classrooms, design thinking, self-learning, group learning, gamification or project-based learning among others.

Purpose or Goal

The study-case subject, in this case, is located at the third course of the MsC in Industrial Engineering, specializing in electronics. The subject name is “Digital Systems”. In particular, the student guide of the subject identifies different competencies, generic and specific, to be acquired by the student as well as the learning outcomes to be evaluated. Most of the competences learning outcomes are associated with technical skills and experimental capabilities.
From the previously mentioned competences and learning outcomes, it is clear that a pure or traditional lecture session training is not appropriated to be applied in this case. Here, it should be advisable to provide the student with the proper tools and apply hands-on training and project-based methodology in order to maximize the results and engagement of the students. The idea is to permit the students to put their hands on electronics at the very first moment.

Learning is messy


In this particular case, the traditional masterclasses were substituted by short theory pills that explain the basic architecture of digital systems (PIC microcontrollers - PIC16F877A). Short theory pills are sustained by a previous study of the students using supplementary materials available via a Sakai-based online platform. The rest of the time the students are introduced into in-lab exercise-based learning where they are supposed to train their knowledge to solve different problems. Finally, when all the contents of the semester have been presented to the students they are challenged to propose a complete project that reviews all or the majority of the subject contents of the course lessons (the figure below represents the hardware used in the lab).

hardware used in the lab

The students’ work is separated between the lab working hours 60) and the student working or preparation hours (90). Here, the student is supposed to prepare the lessons prior to the lab working hours in order to take advantage of the teacher supervision. Otherwise, the student is warned by the professor for the next session.

Actual or Anticipated Outcomes

The hands-on training approach has been monitored during 7 courses from 2013 to 2019 and the failure rate has been reduced to less than 10% compared to 25% of the masterclasses. However, the most significant change associated with the new teaching method is the increase in the student's class attendance, which raised to nearly 100% compared to 50-60% of the masterclasses.

Conclusions/ Recommendations/ Summary 

A hands-on training approach has been successfully applied to a technological subject (teaching of microcontrollers) obtaining a reduction of the failure ratio of the students as well as an increase in student engagement. The application of this approach to technological subjects is highly recommendable although it requires a low ratio of students per professor in order to provide good attention to the students in the lab.

This study has been presented at the IEEE EDUCON conference 2021 and the video below shows some of the projects developed by the students during the courses 2013-2019.

Content made on Kapwing

C. R. Zamarreño received the MS degree in Electrical and Electronic Engineering and his PhD in Communications from the Public University of Navarra (UPNA) in 2005 and 2009 respectively. He became a reader at UPNA in 2012. He was a visiting scientist at MIT, SIEMENTS and UTFPR. In 2013 received the IEEE Sensors GOLD (Graduate of Last Decade) Award. His main research interests are optical fiber devices for chemo and bio sensing purposes and micro and nanostructure fabrication techniques.

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