In barely two weeks, many Polytechnique Montréal teachers had to adapt their courses to enable their students to continue their semester in distance-learning mode. In the coming days, we will be sharing some of their stories with you.
This year, students in the INF1900 - Projet initial de système embarqué course will validate their source lines of code on a virtual simulator (image at right) rather than a robot (image at left).
If the winter 2020 semester at Polytechnique had continued as planned, the Lorne-M.-Trottier Atrium of the Lassonde buildings would have hosted final evaluations this week for the capstone project course INF1900 - Projet initial de système embarqué (initial embedded system project). Robots would have taken turns on a course with only a black ribbon stuck in front of them as a compass. However, the event will not take place… no surprise there.
The 211 students in the course will not be taking a break, however: the lines of code that have been feverishly typed since the beginning of the session will be evaluated by a 100% virtual simulator.
It was Jérôme Collin, lecturer in the Department of Computer Engineering and Software Engineering at Polytechnique and course teacher, who came up with this alternative to a physical robot while preparing to relaunch his class last month. During a serendipitous research session on the Internet, he discovered the existence of a program simulator with a graphical interface – an ideal alternative, given the current situation, for testing every computer program.
“Usually, the students install a programmed chip and sensors on the robot and then the demonstration starts,” Professor Collin explains. “This year, we’ll enter only the program they have created into the simulator and then test it by modulating elements connected to the virtual processor to simulate the response of the sensors in the same way as if they would have been connected to the robot. The graphical interface of the simulator also animates.”
Anchoring the learning
The capstone project course INF1900 - Projet initial de système embarqué allows first-year students to apply the concepts acquired thus far in their academic career to a concrete robotics project. It not only validates their computer basics, but also their design and problem-solving skills.
Professor Collin says the course has been a success since it has been given online, although it does not enable certain skills to be developed in the same way. “Our students work in teams of four, and a lot of learning takes place through emulation, by watching the others work or by comparing projects,” he explains. “It’s the price we’ve paid for working remotely.”
However, there should be a place for the simulator in future editions of the course, Professor Collin believes. "It will be interesting to simultaneously simulate and to physically watch what’s happening,” he adds. “It will certainly improve our course.”
Jérôme Collin, lecturer in the Department of Computer Engineering and Software Engineering.
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