Tag Archives: course

Report on ECE Graduate Seminar

During the 2009-2010 academic year I taught a new version of the UNH ECE Graduate Seminar (ECE 900), a course I first introduced in the fall of 2002. The primary aim of the previous version of the course was to expose our graduate students to research and development conducted at other institutions. Thus, the course consisted of eight invited talks per semester, given by engineers, scientist and other professionals, and covering a range of topics of interest to ECE students. 

Starting with the 2009-2010 academic year the primary aim of the course has become to introduce graduate students to the general tools of scientific research. I championed this new aim for the course and I’m grateful that my faculty colleagues gave me an opportunity to share my excitement about scientific research with our graduate students. 

The course had three main aspects: 

  • Lectures on performing scientific research. My lectures introduced students to the steps of scientific research, from formulating problems, to proposing hypotheses and conducting experiments.
  • Research talks. Each student attended at least 15 talks. Most of these were held at UNH and the speakers were exceptional. At the same time, I encouraged the students to recommend talks that we can attend at other institutions. The result: trips to MIT, BU and WPI.
  • Research proposal. At the end of the two semester sequence each student submitted a short research proposal and gave a presentation on the same. The proposals were developed over the two semesters, with students working individually and in groups. I provided feedback throughout the year on different segments of the proposal. 

In an informal survey at the end of the academic year most students indicated that they liked the new version of the ECE Graduate Seminar and that they thought it was useful. All of the students thought that learning about the tools of science is useful and the majority also indicated that their technical writing skills improved due to this course. These responses are certainly encouraging. 

I will be teaching ECE 900 again during the 2010-2011 academic year. Based on my experiences reported here, as well as those with my Fundamentals of Ubicomp course, I plan to implement two changes: 

  • Accelerate proposal development. I will move up the due date for the final research proposal to sometime early in the second semester. The accelerated schedule should help build excitement for learning about science. It will also give us time at the end of the year to discuss how other researchers approach scientific work. Finally, it will help with student participation in the course, which is the subject of the second change I intend to implement.
  • Increase student participation. While I encouraged student participation throughout the semester, the results were not always stellar. By accelerating the proposal development process I hope to provide students with discussion topics that they feel comfortable talking about. I also intend to ask students to hold multiple formal presentations in class. One assignment that students can expect next semester: create a 15 minute presentation about a research topic of your choice, based on a research video posted online.

Report on Fundamentals of Ubicomp course

During the spring 2010 semester I taught a new course entitled Ubiquitous Computing Fundamentals. The term ubiquitous computing refers to the model of computing in which computers are embedded in everyday objects and become part of everyday activities. As the name implies, this course was designed as an introduction to this exciting field of study.

In this course I used the excellent new ubicomp textbook [1] edited by John Krumm. I highly recommend this book to anyone starting out in the field of ubicomp. Specifically, I like two aspects of the book. First, the team of contributors assembled by John provides a comprehensive introduction to the myriad topics that make up the ubicomp field. The fact that ubicomp is an interdisciplinary field is exciting, but getting an overview of the field may seem like a daunting task. The textbook provides this overview. Second, paraphrasing Aaron Quigley‘s assessment of his chapter [2], the book provides “an entry point” to the world of conducting research in general, and ubicomp research in particular. The contributors discuss the tools used in various aspects of ubicomp research, from prototyping, to user studies, to data processing. The individual chapters help the reader formulate research questions and steps, and provide valuable tips on how to report on results. 

The course covered three topic areas:

  • History of ubicomp. The semester started with Weiser’s seminal paper [3] and with a textbook chapter introducing ubicomp by Roy Want, one of Weiser’s collaborators at Xerox PARC.
  • Building ubicomp systems. We discussed various aspects of creating ubicomp systems, from writing always-on software, to privacy, to conducting laboratory and field experiments.
  • The user experience. As this is my research focus, we spent a considerable amount of time discussion user interactions with ubicomp systems, from speech interactions, to multi-touch tables, to tangible user interfaces.

I found that an excellent way to discuss ubicomp topics is to take advantage of research videos posted online. We viewed many such videos and this led to productive discussions. We also benefited from excellent talks by Marko PopovicBret Harsham and Albrecht Schmidt.

I felt that the course was a success. Students indicated that they liked the course and thought that it was useful. The course also allowed students to express themselves creatively through the course project. The results were impressive and I’ll end this post with an example. The video below is the work of UNH ECE seniors Amy Schwarzenberg and Kyle Maroney (both graduated in May). Amy and Kyle explored user interactions with a Microsoft Surface multi-touch table.


[1] John Krumm (editor), “Ubiquitous Computing Fundamentals,” CRC Press, 2010

[2] Aaron Quigley, “From GUI to UUI: Interfaces for Ubiquitous Computing,” in John Krumm (editor), “Ubiquitous Computing Fundamentals,” CRC Press, 2010

[3] Mark Weiser, “The Computer for the 21st century,” Scientific American, pp. 94-10, September 1991