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ScientIST: using mobile and IoT technologies as powerful teaching tools

by IT on 01-03-2021
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ScientIST, a pedagogical innovation project (PIP) led by IT researchers, explored the potential of mobile devices and IoT platforms in project-based teaching, as a way to enrich students’ learning experience within the field of biomedical engineering.


Coordinated by Ana Fred (IST/IT), the project carried out a pilot study at Instituto Superior Técnico to actively involve students in the learning process and support their laboratory activities, which involved the use of smartphones and tablets together with state-of-the-art software and hardware tools.


Students were given access to popular platforms, such as the recently-launched Arduino MKR WIFI 1010, used for prototyping Internet of Things (IoT) applications; the Google Science Journal (GSJ), Google’s digital notebook; and Jupyter Notebooks, a cloud platform which creates interactive documents incorporating live code, equations, graphics and narrative text. 


Equipped with these technologies, students’ mobile devices proved to be powerful laboratory tools for the acquisition and processing of biomedical signals, and ultimately allowed them to document their classes in full, describing the followed procedures, their experimental observations, and generating a final report.


“This project fundamentally changes the teaching paradigm, giving it greater versatility. The goal was to use these notebooks as laboratory tools, but also as illustrative elements of theoretical concepts we teach in class”, explains Ana Fred.


The ScientIST initiative was implemented in two case studies at IST: a Histology laboratory class and a physiological data acquisition and processing experiment. In the end, students’ feedback was very encouraging, having rated the experience an overall score of 79% in terms of usability and user experience.


Proposed ScientIST workflow for biomedical engineering experiments supported by mobile devices, cloud and IoT.


Researchers say this new approach could be transferred to other classes or courses at IST, or even scaled to other universities, both nationally and internationally. It has also proved to be effective in responding quickly to some of the challenges raised by the COVID-19 outbreak, and may be particularly useful to support remote teaching.


“We planned this project before the pandemic, so in the early stages we still managed to run one laboratory class face-to-face. But from then on, the whole experiment was done remotely. We never anticipated it, but it turned out to be a totally autonomous experience!”, said Ana Fred.


“At the moment, we continue to develop and enhance this notebook concept, integrating more machine learning and signal processing tools, so it can eventually become available to the rest of the Técnico community, and in the future to the wider teaching community”, she adds.


Several researchers from IT participated in this initiative — including Hugo Silva and Joana Pinto — building on previous and ongoing work within the Pattern and Image Analysis group.


According to Hugo Silva, “this is quite a transformative approach given that, for many experiments in the field of biomedical systems and signals, students are no longer bound to a particular physical space. They now have a pocket lab, comprising even specialised sensors, that can be used for experimentation with everyone, everywhere”.


Scientific article