AN INTERDISCIPLINARY APPROACH TO LABORATORIES AT THE SCHOOL OF ENGINEERING
C. De Castro
IEIIT-CNR, National Research Council of Italy (ITALY)
Distinct subjects at university, such as Telecommunications and Computer Science at the School of Engineering, are generally taught in an isolated manner, whereas advanced applications require their interdiscilinary use.
This work aims at integrating traditional laboratory courses in Telecommunications and Computer Science with interdisciplinary parts, so to help students understand the role of distinct courses in the development of advanced services. An interdisciplinary approach to theoretical subjects was proposed by the author.
The original proposed methodology is to analyze a mobile application and its architecture and understand the role of each practical subject in its design and programming. In particular, mobile applications need to use distinct network access technologies, such as cellular and WiFi (multi-network access), so the role is underlined of programming heterogeneous network interfaces.
In addition, an application must meet the needs of distinct mobile devices (smartphones, tablets, laptops, etc.) using heterogeneous operating systems (Apple, Windows, Android, etc.), so cross-platform development environments are proposed, such as Java.
The specific service analyzed is quite diffused and allows a user to choose a train and keep informed in real time about delays, trip cancellation and further journey opportunities.
Several technologies coexist in this application: for instance users can send their trip definition and ask for available trains using a laptop and a wired connection but must be able to be informed about their trip using a smartphone and a WiFi or a cellular connection; the commutation from one technology to another must be managed by the underlying software.
In addition, the cross-platform approach allows to support distinct operating systems and deployment methods using the same software development platform. Students must thus be trained to this kind of approach, instead of writing device- and OS-specific code, for instance using the already mentioned Java as well as web applications, which are typically cross-platform.
As for multiple network interfaces, every mobile application must be design and developed in such a way to be accessible through distinct network access technologies.
Moreover, when real time information is involved, as it happens in the considered application, appropriate database technologies must also be properly handled with.
In conclusion, the proposed, integrated approach to the interdisciplinary laboratory courses analyzed a mobile application requirements and explained the role of the following advanced courses:
(1) advanced programming languages, where cross-platform application development can be faced;
(2) mobile telecommunications, where the commutation among heterogeneous network access interfaces is explained;
(3) advanced information systems, where real time database management can be dealt with.
The skils acquired in the laboratory parts of the above courses were integrated in the development of a mobile service and students were trained to understand what lies behind several mobile applications they commonly use and the importance of integrating their skills.