How to Make a Computer

Grade Received: A

This assignment involved creating a communication device prototype using foam board and an Arduino Feather M0. Not only did this assignment get me to spend long nights in my kitchen with an X-Acto knife, some foam board, and perpetually complaining C++ code on the Arduino IDE, but it also taught me the wonderful (and oftentimes confusing) connection between software and hardware. Furthermore, it taught me the importance of documenting everything I do, as well as the importance of online forums, where I could search for my coding problems and find and test potential solutions until I find the one that is right for my situation.

As someone who has limited coding experience (I am only a little bit familiar with Python, but not C++, which is the language used in the Arduino IDE) and extremely limited crafting experience, I found this assignment to be one of the most daunting yet rewarding assignments in my undergraduate studies. This project has definitely pushed me out of my comfort zone, but in the end I am grateful as I have now developed a new form of appreciation toward computers.

Lecture and Classroom Communication Device

The physical prototype.
Concept

My communication device, which is called Help, was created based on what is a common problem in the classroom or lecture hall setting: when a concept becomes complicated or confusing for students, some students may be too embarrassed to raise their hands to ask for clarification. Another hurdle could be, especially in larger lectures, students may find it difficult to get noticed by the professor when they raise their hands in the first place.

What usually happens afterwards is the students go home and spend hours trying to catch up on the course. Sometimes they may even try to do this right before an exam, which can only add to the stress and time needed to study. However, Help tries to mitigate that problem by not only attracting the professor’s attention with flashing lights, but also making the situation of not understanding concepts less embarrassing for students. How does the device do this? The device operates on the idea that when a majority of students in a group or lecture hall table do not understand the topic well, the device will alarm. Thus, the device proves that the students who do not understand the lecture are not alone; there are also other students who are on the same boat. Therefore, the device hopefully puts less focus on the students asking for help, and more focus on the situation and puzzling concept at hand.

How it Works

1.) The device sits on a classroom or lecture hall table where it is easily accessible to students. The device also connects to the lecturer’s phone via Bluetooth.

 

2.) If the student does not understand the lecture, he/she presses the red button and passes the device to other students so that they can vote as well. Anonymized results will be sent to the lecturer’s phone.

 

3.) If the student does understand the lecture, he/she presses the green button and passes the device to other students so that they can vote as well. Anonymized results will be sent to the lecturer’s phone.

 

4.) Once all students have had the chance to vote, the student presses both buttons.

5.) If more students vote that they do not understand the lecture, red lights will flash and the lecturer will be notified on his/her phone via Bluetooth.

6.) If more students vote that they do understand the lecture, both lights will light up in a calm green colour for a few seconds before turning off again. The lecturer will be notified of the results on his/her phone via Bluetooth.

 
Materials
  • Breadboard
  • Adafruit Feather M0 components
  • Wires
  • Buttons (x2)
  • Adafruit NeoPixels (x2)
  • Laptop as the main computer
  • Android cable with serial capabilities
  • Battery
  • Foam board
  • Cardboard
  • Blade
  • Ruler
  • Pencil and Eraser (for sketching)
Process Photos
Under the Hood

Wires connect the buttons, Adafruit NeoPixels (the lights), the battery, and the Feather.

Demonstration

The Help device can connect to a smartphone via Bluetooth and the Bluefruit app. This video demonstrates how the physical device sends data to the app via Bluetooth. The red button presses are represented by “sad boy,” while the green button presses are represented by “happy boy.”