Friday, 25 May 2012

Meeting 24/5

Who was there:
Tom Page

Topics covered:
  • Google's plans to back Raspberry Pi
  • Videos - How did they go?
  • Methodology for choosing prototyping systems
  • What does the BA require? what is the purpose of the prototype? - we need focus
  • Comparison of Brunel's and Lboro's curriculums

Google has plans to fund teachers to work in schools around the UK along with resources such as Arduino and Raspberry Pi. East Midlands named as an area that will receive support.
  • Which schools around this area are going to get the support?
  • How can we find out? Talk to Nigel Zanker
  • A good idea to speak to the schools, contact the teachers, find out how they are teaching
  • Collaboration?
Videos with Peter Simcoe

In the last few days, Peter and myself have been conducting video interviews with 3rd year undergraduate students in the last stages of their FYDP. This was primarily for videos to go on the IDATER conference website to describe the kind of work students do at Loughborough and to get some insite into how they used electrical prototyping in them. I took the opportunity to get some information about experiences students were having with electrical prototyping.  The following questions were asked:
  1. Tell us your name and briefly describe your project. 
  2. What stage are you at in terms of product development? 
  3. What do you hope to achieve with the prototype when its finished? What will you be using it for? 
  4. What aspects of the project involve electronic prototyping? 
  5. What proportion of it has been spent on that? 
  6. What kind of systems and software are you using to make your electronics? 
  7. What has been the biggest challenge during prototyping so far? 
  8. What sacrifices have you had to make in order to get the prototype working? 
  9. When you first thought about / considered / approached the task of prototyping the electronics, how did you feel about it? Were you keen? Was it daunting? 
  10. In comparison, how do you feel about it now? 
  11. If you could have anything to make this process easier, what would it be? 
  12. Prior to university, how much experience have you had with electronic prototyping?
The videos have not been reviewed or transcribed yet, but one of the points I came away with was that a lot of the students (7 interviewed in total) mentioned that time was spent and wasted at the start of the project by not selecting the right components to do the job. This meant only later on they realised their mistake and switched to a new system or approach, either by their own realisation or by the guidance of a lecturer.

Prototyping Methodology

Possible solution: create a methodology to help with the process of choosing systems.
  • A handout given at the start of FYDP (October)
  • Consists of a guide / flowchart / grid that the student follows inorder to choose the best system for their project
  • Outcome based upon desired complexity, control elements, inputs, outputs, wireless systems, etc
  • Includes list of recommended suppliers / websites / books / guides / code libraries which are more likely to work together.
  • If one of these are made over the summer, it could be used as a handout for next years FYDP students.
Possibility of crowd sourcing information? Take experiences from previous years, good sources students have used, systems that work well, components that are reliable / cheap. Would require vetting and selection system.

What does the BA require in terms of prototyping?

As stated in the previous meeting, the prototype represents and showcases many disciplines that the student has gained during their time on the course. Therefore, it cannot purely be made for user testing purposes as that would neglect other skills that need to been demonstrated. However, how far can we expect a student to go during the prototyping stage, and how much does this really influence the final mark?

Case in point:

Mark is making an mp3 player that reacts to movements of the user (tapping, nodding, etc) and changes the music to suit the perceived mood. He cannot create the computer system that calculates the type of song required as this would need a very complex system, instead he decides to create a system that mimiks the interface. It involves a screen, an Arduino, 3 buttons and an SD card reader. Originally he wanted the mp3s to be stored on the SD card and to be processed through the Arduino, but he struggled to make that work, so now he has taken an mp3 player apart and plans to use the buttons to turn on sounds with the mp3 player as well as navigate a menu on-screen. He has spent a long time trying to get it all working and thus far, has got the screen to display characters. Much time was wasted trying to get the mp3 player working within the Arduino, not yet sure if he has managed to include the bought-in player to the system.

Ben has made a Beehive that you can monitor the bees with a wireless camera. Along with the camera feed, the temperare of the hive is also displayed on a monitor. He looked into making this using Arduino and components bought off Sparkfun. But instead, he bought a wireless webcam off eBay, a thermometer with a digital readout and set it up so the web cam was pointed inside the hive with the readout in-shot. The image streamed to a computer screen.

Both these students are BA. One decided to take the long and hard route and has resulted in something not much more better than if he just put a cheap mp3 player in it. The other saved time, bought all the fully working components in and got nearly the same as he would have if he prototyped it.
What I am interested in is how much is Mark's work going to pay off? When it comes to marking, how much more will be given for the work done with the electronics? Is it going to be worth the time spent working on systems that never worked, and worth the time neglected on other parts? Especially since the areas neglected are more likely going to be considered more typical concerns for a BA student. 

I need to talk to various members of staff to get their views on how something as subjective as FYDP marking works. Talk to:
  • Mark - BA FYDP coordinator
  • Ian
  • Karl
  • John
  • Richard
  • Darren
Lectures who are ex-students, worth getting their opinion:
  • Steve
  • Rhoda
Get the FYDP marking scheme. However, this will not explain all the decisions because it does not take into account the subjectivity of each lecturer.

Lboro / Brunel curriculum comparisons

Brunel's courses being considered the course closest in setup to Loughborough's, to help visualise where each course overlaps it might be worth setting up a matrix to compare the areas which they cover.
Might be worth speaking to Nick Schneider, who seemed opinionated when it came to the differences between the two courses.

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