College of Engineering News • Iowa State University

ECpE’s Rover, Jones receive Teaching Innovation Award

Each semester, select faculty members at Iowa State University (ISU) are recognized with a Teaching Innovation Award. Recipients of the spring 2020 round of awards not only had to demonstrate innovation in their curriculum, but also a willingness to go above and beyond during the transition to online coursework. Two department of Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECpE) faculty members were recognized for the Spring 2020 Teaching Innovation Award, including University Professor Diane Rover. Associate Professor Phillip Jones was also recognized with the award. Rover said the recognition represents ECpE faculty’s collective dedication to students.

“Receiving the Spring 2020 Teaching Innovation Award is rewarding because it reflects that we successfully focused our efforts on student needs and learning. We used the power of our team approach to innovate,” Rover said. “I’m thankful for the faculty, students and staff who were part of that effort, as this award is theirs, too. I appreciate the recognition by Iowa State, not only for me but all awardees, and would also like to thank the anonymous donor for supporting the award.”

When it was announced in March 2020 that courses at ISU would be held virtually for the rest of the semester, Rover was in the midst of teaching CPRE 288 – Introduction to Embedded Systems. As part of the course, students worked to code iRobot-based mobile robots with microcontroller boards (nicknamed Cybots). Around 220 students were enrolled in the course, which included 10 lab groups and 11 teaching assistants (TAs). In making a successful transition to virtual learning, Rover said the TAs played a crucial role.

“TAs took home [the Cybots] at spring break, and students worked with TAs the rest of the semester to run code on the robots,” Rover said. “Providing access to the labs would not have been possible without the time and dedication of the TAs. They are unsung heroes in all of this.”

CPRE 288 is part of a National Science Foundation (NSF) project entitled “Reinventing the Instructional and Departmental Enterprise (RIDE).”  As part of the course, students learn basic computer concepts and interact with the “real world” using CyBots. Students control the movement of CyBots and gather information using various sensors, including sonar and infrared, mounted on a servomotor (also part of the CyBot), to sweep from 0-180 degrees in a room. According to the ISU RIDE web page, the goal of the program is to reshape core technical electrical and computer engineering (ECE) curricula through pedagogical approaches that promote design thinking, systems thinking and professional skills, such as leadership and inclusion. The program also aims to contextualize course concepts, as well as stimulate creative, socio-technical minded development of ECE technologies for future smart systems. 

During the spring semester, Rover was part of a team designed to support the course, called an x-team. Rover said being a part of the x-team was just another way she was able to help support students through an unprecedented time.

“X-teams use a design thinking approach to course design and redesign that starts with empathy for the user, such as the student taking the course,” Rover said. “So as we transitioned to virtual, we kept the needs of the students front and center.”

Recipients of the award are nominated by the dean of their respective academic college. ECpE department chair Ashfaq Khokhar said both Rover and Jones were deserving of the recognition.

“This award truly recognizes the team effort that Diane and Phillip have put together, along with support from ETG (the department’s Electronics and Technology Group),” Khokhar said. “Thank you all for your leadership and efforts, and heartiest congrats to Phillip and Diane on this truly deserving recognition!”