L. Breniuc, C.G. Haba

Technical University of Iasi (ROMANIA)
Our paper presents the work at our faculty for developing a flexible platform for teaching embedded systems and two tools (covering matrix and oriented graph) associated to the flexible platform that can be used to develop the learning paths for one or more related courses. For demonstration it is presented a flexible platform which can be used in applications that measure, process and record quantities that characterize the environment status.
The platform is composed of several modules that can communicate using an RF connection. Each module has a central processing unit that is implemented using a microcontroller or FPGAs development board and several extension modules that extend the feature set of the development board. Changing or adding sensor modules to a sensor node can modify or enhance the node character. The platform use smart sensors that can communicate with a microcontroller via SPI, I2C, UART ports.
Using this platform the students can learn the following: programming the microcontroller board using C or C++, communicating with the smart sensors using the SPI, I2C or UART ports, creation of a sensor network based on a custom designed or a known communication protocol such as ZigBee or MiWi.
Due to its modularity, the platform is very flexible allowing the implementation of an entire range of applications. The platform allows the gradual development of an application, starting with homogenous fixed sensor structure (only temperature sensors distributed in fixed position on the monitored area) to a heterogeneous flexible sensor structure where nodes can move and can measure different sets of parameters.
The different platform features can be associated to specific topics that are included in the courses taught in two specializations offered by our university. A table presenting a covering matrix for several topics in different courses and thus that can be used for demonstration of that topic during a lab work, using the proposed platform, is provided. The names of the courses are partly generic and partly the real ones in order to be easier to compare the courses taught in our university with those in other universities.
An oriented graph is also constructed providing the many learning paths a teacher can take by using the presented platform. In developing the laboratory works, the teacher can detail the nodes (a node corresponds to a topic in the course which can be demonstrated with the platform) that are relevant for his course by discussing the methods, the structure and the functionalities related to that node. The other nodes can be discussed only at a high level without presenting all the implementation details.
The covering matrix and the oriented graph can be built for other modular platforms to be used in laboratory work, in order to become useful tools in teachers' effort to develop the most efficient learning path for their students.
During laboratory works the students showed a good interested in the applications developed with the proposed platform and confirmed that the learning curve was lean enough to understand the topics to be demonstrated and acquire the required skills.
The use of the platform showed its support (by flexibility) to adapt the application to the different background, level of understanding and coping with information of student lab working groups.