At what point will the fundamentals governing embedded systems be as valuable as the mathematics or literature considered essential for a thriving society? People wrestle with these questions, but the industry increasingly seems to think that comprehending embedded systems is quite essential. Case in point, Arm Education (ArmEducationX) just launched a new course on the popular MOOC (massive open online course) platform edX. Entitled Embedded Systems Essentials with Arm: Get Practical with Hardware, it uses a NUCLEO-F401RE for lab applications. The introductory curriculum targets undergraduates, hobbyists, and professionals looking to improve themselves. It is also the second course required for Arm Education’s Professional Certificate.
Get Practical with Hardware: Making Embedded Systems More Accessible
ST’s Educational Platforms
“Where should I start” or “What should I know” are common questions for people interested in electrical and computer engineering, but the right answer is not always obvious. ST has dedicated educational platforms to make the fundamentals more accessible. Our teams worked with Professor William Kaiser at UCLA on an undergraduate course on Embedded Systems with SensorTile. We also collaborated on more advanced subjects, such as Embedded Systems in C and Assembly taught at the University of Maine by Professor Yifeng Zhu. Similarly, Professor Kaiser developed advanced coursework on motor control and control systems, and we offer many Getting Started guides. However, the new course by Arm Education is exciting because it offers a new approach to embedded systems.
Arm Education’s Innovative Approach to Embedded Systems
By relying on edX, Arm Education enables students to use a popular learning platform and deliver a professional certificate. Users also get a strong community of like-minded scholars that can motivate and support them. The course is self-paced to fit various lifestyles, and it’s possible to enroll at any time. It thus offers more flexibility and can ease students with little experience in the subject matter. The professional certificate also aims to give a broad understanding of embedded systems and Mbed, Arm’s development tool and RTOS. Hence, Embedded Systems Essentials with Arm: Get Practical with Hardware focuses more on offering an accessible entry point to the field than simply mimicking a university course.
The desire to make the coursework more accessible is also apparent in its underlying structure. The new curriculum has four modules, two on serial communications and two on real-time operating systems (RTOS). It builds on the first course from Arm Education (Embedded Systems Essentials with Arm: Getting Started) and will ensure students interested in more advanced topics can confidently move forward. Both courses only require a basic understanding of C and try to challenge students with real-world applications. Indeed, even those with a good grasp of embedded systems will still find value in answering questions that will challenge their way of thinking about IoT and its computing paradigms.
Get Practical with Hardware: Making the Learning Experience More Tangible
An Accessible Bill of Material
The same desire for greater accessibility that inspired the coursework pushed Arm Education to choose the NUCLEO-F401RE board. The development tool is one of the most popular STM32 Nucleo systems. As such, it benefits from a lot of documentation and a strong community that can help students if necessary. The STM32F4 at the center of the board also provides the best tradeoff for an introductory course. Indeed, the MCU is cost-effective while offering the I/Os and performance necessary to tackle the concepts presented. Additionally, students taking the course will learn on the same board that many in the industry use for their projects. It is, therefore, a way to ensure that users get expertise that will serve them in their professional life.
Along with the board, ST and Arm Education put together a Bill of Materials containing the components students will need during the course. Indeed, the coursework’s authors assembled a list of devices that will make the various teachings more practical and relatable. For instance, students get to experience a small LCD when they learn about serial communication, thus visually witnessing the information sent from the microcontroller. The BoM also includes, among other things, a breadboard, a sensor, and a potentiometer, as well as a few resistors. The BoM is cost-effective with a total price of about USD60 with the STM32 Nucleo board or USD50 without, for those who already own it.
In the Midst of a Pandemic
One of the many paradoxes of this global pandemic is that while students are taking online classes, buying books or hardware components is a bit more complicated than usual. ST is thus working with distributors so everyone can get their hands on all the components in the BoM. The global crisis may make it difficult to get some parts, but we are working extensively with our partners to ensure that students get their entire bill of materials as soon as possible. Meanwhile, it is possible to start the course without the hardware and learn the foundational concepts before tackling the labs.
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