Innovation and Research

Scholarly Approach to Teaching and Learning

The best scenario in teaching and learning occurs when teachers play to their strengths and allow students to play to theirs.

Teacher Choices

My approach to scholarly teaching and learning has been to study best practices, first adopting those which work best in my style, next adopting and assessing those which may not, and finally, when needed, developing, assessing, and disseminating techniques that seem to be missing from the list. In the process, I find that I continue to improve as a teacher steadily over the years even if encountering temporary setbacks in student satisfaction. This process has served well and has led to innovations such as ‚Äúcontent personalization‚ÄĚ where I seek ways to allow students to personalize the content they learn, thus allowing them to also play to their strengths.

Student Choices

Content personalization occurred to me while teaching ECE 101 Exploring Digital Information Technology, a course for non-engineers. I had spent several semesters making adjustments to this course to make it more attractive to students by improving the materials in applications that best describe the interests of the student body. With the aid of Micheal Loui, I wrote and received a grant (National Science Foundation Grant DUE-0942331, 2010-2014), to investigate methods of discovering student interests and rolling the findings back into the course materials.

Since spring of 2013, I have served as course director of ECE 110 Intro to Electronics and, in that course, content personalization has taken the form of Explore More! Modules. These modules are numerous semi-required materials that allow students to self-select topics for the course that can help them achieve a personal understanding of course materials, a specific outcome for a project, and/or enhance their ability to attack future endeavors. The melding of this material into the traditional procedures serves to engage experienced students and while still improving basic skills for those receiving their first exposure to the materials.

Examples of Explore More! Modules:

This autonomy is integrated in each lab. In the lab procedure, three specific modules (with three very different objectives) are recommended at at a convenient point as shown on the seventh page of the following laboratory exercise: Experiment 7: PWM Wheel Motor Balance

A Community of Practice

In the course design for ECE 110, I have been greatly blessed to be surrounded by a faculty and staff that accept the challenges that come with teaching and learning and the motivation to take them head on. It is largely through the cooperative efforts of the larger Community of Practice at the University of Illinois that I have found great joy and success in my role of working with students. It is also in this environment that my students have been able to both learn and enjoy materials that challenge all in our discipline. I enjoy learning from my colleagues and I look forward to seeing the future successes of my students. It is imperative that we continue to support and mature the collaborations of this Community of Practice within the department, the college, and the university.

Wireless Communication and Signal Processing

My technical research has been in wireless communications and adaptive digital signal processing. Specific projects have included satellite communication, multi-user CDMA communication, OFDM, algorithmic fault-tolerant adaptive filtering, and small multi-element arrays for speech as well as for electromagnetic beamforming. More recently, with my heavy involvement in first-year courses, my attention has turned towards helping undergraduates become involved in research.

WaggleNet (named for the “waggle dance” communication of the honeybee) is a multi-faceted undergraduate research project dedicated to streamlining data collection constructed under the constraints demanded by typical beekeeping environments: Solar powered, turnkey implementation, and sensor footprints conformed to “bee space”. It utilizes a student-designed adaptive-mesh network and a generic protocol that is sensor independent. Although the driving application is for honeybee monitoring, the system produced is an extension of the Internet of Things (IoT) to many rural telemetry applications. Further interest has been expressed by persons regarding other 24/7 low-data-rate agricultural monitoring.

After a fast start from May through October, 2017, we contacted Gene Robinson the Director of the Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology to offer our assistance for data collection in his lab. In a stroke of serendipity, his lab manager, Ali Sankey, was in the process of seeking a system of exactly these features. Prototype sensors and routers were deployed in multiple locations in time for temperature and humidity sensing over the winter months where they proved great performers.

Following several awards and some publicity, the small team began to attract interested undergraduate researchers. The student team has been able to define needs in multiple areas including sensor development, wireless network improvement, hardware layout, packaging, machine learning for classifier development, and FPGA for on-site classification and early warning for bee-life emergencies. We will seek to grow this project and move it into a new phase of development and closer to commercialization. The project will remain both open-source as well as open-hardware in order to facilitate widespread use and collaboration between multiple institutions. We are seeking grant funds to extend the work to include graduate students.