Harvey Mudd College Professor on Teaching Robotics, Circuit Design in Lockdown

Harvey Mudd College Professor continues teaching circuit design and robotics lab courses under lockdown

Harvey Mudd College Professor continues teaching circuit design and robotics lab courses under lockdown using take-home Arduino kits

Matthew Spencer, Assistant Professor of Engineering, Harvey Mudd College, teaches project-based electrical engineering and robotic courses, usually involving group works in the lab or outdoor.

(Note: Harvey Mudd College President Maria Klawe is speaking on boosting diversity in STEM education at the upcoming CAASE20 virtual conference, coproduced by DE.)

“It's important for us to provide laboratory experiences because they are a formative part of engineering education,” said Spencer. “It's much harder when the students don't have access to the hardware we usually use to do it.

For this lockdown, Spencer's remedy for the robotic class was a portable Arduino kit students can take home. “It has a very short learning curve, and the connections on the board are already connected, so the students don't have to solder anything, which means they need less equipment,” he noted.

“For the circuit design class, we move from physical circuit design to simulation,” he added. “The robotic class is usually graded based on team presentation and project reports. The final delivery has been redefined as “a video for internet consumption,” Spencer said.

Matthew Spencer (Harvey Mudd College) finds ways to continue teaching his regular robotics and circuit design classes during lockdown. Image courtesy of Matthew Spencer.

Zoom learning has its own challenges, but also pleasant surprises. “What caught me offguard was to discover that I can run office hour very efficiently using chat services,” he noted.

During his office hour, he opens the chatroom and creates different threads devoted to questions. “That way, I can answer many questions at the same time,” he pointed out.

For fellow teachers and peers struggling with the switch to remote teaching and learning, Spencer reminded, “It's possible to focus on the core experience of the class. In order to preserve that, you can let the extra details built around it fall by the wayside.”

For the full interview, listen to the podcast below (intro and end music by Bensound).

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Kenneth Wong

Kenneth Wong is Digital Engineering’s resident blogger and senior editor. Email him at [email protected] or share your thoughts on this article at digitaleng.news/facebook.

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