S10-O/LT8-4 - Impact of a Virtualized IoT Environment on Online Students

1. Innovative Practice Work In Progress
Douglas Sandy1 , Kevin Gary1, Sohum Sohoni2
1 Arizona State University
2 Milwaukee School of Engineering

The Internet-of-Things (IoT) is an emerging paradigm rapidly gaining adoption in everyday consumer computing. IoT provides a rich platform for computing education from an engineering perspective, involving hardware, software, and networking. A plethora of systems-thinking type problems may be conceived in this environment, involving data marshaling protocols, real-time constraints, control system engineering, and distributed algorithms (to name a few). Several recent publications and educational platforms recognize the potential for IoT to serve as this rich platform for computing education. However, most of these contributions focus on early undergraduate courses in small hands-on settings using general purpose hobbyist kits based on Arduinos or Raspberry PIs. The contribution of this paper is the presentation of a scalable, virtualized IoT educational platform designed specifically to support an upper-division undergraduate online course.

Upper-division courses require students to gain deep knowledge and competency in technical areas, and further learn to translate and apply this knowledge across diverse complex engineering problems. Systems-oriented problems such as those available in the IoT space make it an opportunistic platform for such study. Further, IoT is gaining commercial mindshare in a number of application areas, from consumer technologies (wearables, smart homes) to industry sectors (energy, manufacturing, communications, and healthcare to name a few). The challenges engineering educators may present in IoT to near-graduating students represent an integrative, complex, and motivating slice of modern technology.

Online presentation of IoT-based courses is challenging for several reasons. The replication of an at-home lab environment creates a myriad of low-level technical problems that may take an inordinate amount of time to troubleshoot. Assessment of exercises in such environments is challenging, as submitting and re-deploying solutions in a grader's environment may also be subject to low-level technical replication problems. Such problems may be resolved, but they take an ineffective amount of time to do so, and will not scale. Scale is another dimension, as online classes tend to be both larger and run faster, meaning having a controlled environment is necessary to ensure the class operates smoothly and frustration does not impede learning progress.

In this WIP paper, we present the design criteria and implementation of a virtualized environment for an upper-division online course offering in IoT. We will contrast our platform to recently offered platforms in the literature to identify where adoption may make the most impact. We present preliminary data on the student acceptability of the platform, impact on course learning outcomes compared to previous iterations of the course, and also explore a comparison of impact between online and on-campus instances of the course.