June 2017 Theme: Internet of Things for 21st-Century Learners
Guest Editors’ Introduction by Marcello Coppola and George Kornaros

Hands working on electrical chipsIn the emerging Internet of Things (IoT) era, defined by ubiquitous networks of interconnected and Internet-enabled objects, digital technology fluency is more valuable than ever. At the core of IoT are microcontrollers, sensors, actuators, and MEMS. Groundbreaking innovation requires an understanding of the concepts behind these devices. As Albrecht Schmidt argues in a 2016 article published in IEEE Pervasive Computing, “As digital technologies become embedded in our everyday world, and as ubiquitous computing becomes commonplace, we need to better educate people about computer science concepts, regardless of their professional goals in life.”

How can we best prepare students for the IoT era, especially given that many of their future jobs haven’t been invented yet? Integrating IoT platforms and visual programming languages (VPLs) into curricula has been shown to not only teach computer science concepts but also encourage critical thinking and innovation.

This June 2017 Computing Now theme discusses new ways for teachers to encourage digital literacy in the IoT era. The selected articles introduce methods for integrating IoT into science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education while simultaneously building educational environments that value problem solving and exploration. Additionally, the videos highlight how working with open-source IoT platforms can help foster creativity in 21st-century learners.

IoT Platforms and VPLs

Three great tools for teaching IoT concepts in the classroom are:

  • microcontroller development boards,
  • advanced embedded systems, and
  • VPLs.

Students can use microcontroller development boards such as ArduinoRaspberry Pi, and STM32 Nucleo as small IoT platforms. In U.K. schools, children learn to use the BBC micro:bit, a single-board computer with Bluetooth and USB connectivity, an LED display, and two programmable buttons. All of these boards offer add-ons to extend their functionality to meet the myriad requirements of IoT application development.

Another opportunity is to use advanced embedded solutions, which combine microcontrollers with field-programmable gate arrays (FPGAs). The Blu5 SEcube security-oriented open platform is a good example, as it’s a single-chip design that expertly integrates three main parts: a powerful microcontroller, a Common Criteria-certified smart card, and a flexible FPGA. Developers (and students) can fully control and customize Blu5 SEcube.

VPLs are GUIs that use graphical elements for programming, and one of the most well-known is Scratch. Developed at MIT, Scratch is now used by millions of students, teachers, and parents to develop computational thinking and programming skills in children. According to an article in the Journal of Computing Sciences in Colleges, Scratch can complement IoT platforms in education: “BBC micro:bit can be seen as a simple IoT computing platform, making it easy for students to create ubiquitous computing applications using a range of computer languages (such as Scratch), perfectly matching different age or group abilities.”

The Articles

In “Educational Technologies for Precollege Engineering Education,” Mario Riojas, Susan Lysecky, and Jerzy Rozenblit argue that learners must not only understand underlying principles and theories but also have the creativity to produce effective solutions and physical or virtual implementations. To overcome barriers in obtaining and utilizing high-end technologies, they propose adopting a requirements engineering approach that focuses on quality-in-use — employing general usability and quality models with measures specific to precollege engineering education.

Knowledge Construction in Computer Science and Engineering when Learning Through Making” examines the educational concept of “learning by making,” or “constructionism,” and argues that using IoT as a technology-enhanced learning tool supports multidisciplinary learning opportunities. Authors Patricia Charlton and Katerina Avramides aim to illustrate the combined pedagogical value of collaboration and production in STEM education.

Early exposure to IoT development frameworks can help students feel comfortable with IoT fundamentals. Jing He and his colleagues present a case study in “Integrating Internet of Things (IoT) into STEM undergraduate education: Case Study of a Modern Technology Infused Courseware for Embedded System Course.” The authors show how a module design method can be used to develop a course lab-ware on the basis of a lab development kit composed of Raspberry Pi and Arduino boards. In a fun environment, students gain hands-on programming experience in a technology-driven course.

Albrecht Schmidt describes his vision for computer science education in “Increasing Computer Literacy with the BBC micro:bit.” His method uses microcontroller development boards such as the BBC micro:bit to motivate students to innovate, with the goal of gradually preparing students for the IoT era through small but important experiences.

In “Parallel Programming with Pictures in a Snap!” Annette Feng and Wu-Chun Feng describe how block-based programming environments such as Scratch and Snap! can effectively introduce beginners to computing. These powerful educational aids create visual abstractions that generate parallel code. After students have mastered the fundamentals of sequential programming, they can easily pick up parallel computing.

Video Perspectives

Giorgia Somma and Giuseppe Airo’ Farulla describe how IoT platforms can provide students hands-on experience and teach them to develop real-world applications.

The Industry Perspective

This month’s video describes how flexible and modular open-source IoT platforms can provide students hands-on experience and teach them to develop real-world applications. The video features Giorgia Somma from Blu5 Labs (which makes the Blu5 SEcube) and Giuseppe Airo’ Farulla from the National Interuniversity Consortium for Informatics (CINI) Cyber Security National Lab in Italy.


Today, we have various ways to teach skills that students will need in a global IoT world, but we don’t always implement them effectively in the classroom. This month’s theme encourages educators and institutions to integrate IoT platforms into science and engineering curricula to help students develop digital literacy and innovation skills.

Related Resources

  1. N. Park and Y. Ko, “Computer Education’s Teaching-Learning Methods Using Educational Programming Language Based on STEAM Education,” IFIP Int’l Conf. on Network and Parallel Computing, 2012, pp. 320-327.
  2. M. Resnick et al., “Scratch: Programming for All,” Comm. ACM, vol. 52, no. 11, 2009, pp. 60-67.
  3. E.R. Halverson and K. Sheridan, “The Maker Movement in Education,” Harvard Educational Rev., 84.4, 2014, pp. 495-504.
  4. SEcube information video: http://www.secube.eu/media/video.html

Guest Editors

Marcello Coppola is the technical director at STMicroelectronics and has more than 20 years of industry experience focused on developing break-through technologies. He has a graduate degree in computer science from the University of Pisa, Italy. His research interests include HPC, IoT for education, cyber-physical systems, 5G, automotive technologies, and multicore and many-core SoCs. Coppola has coauthored more than 50 scientific publications and held various roles in top international conferences and workshops. He holds 26 patents and is involved in multiple European research projects. Contact him at marcello.coppola@st.com.

George Kornaros is an assistant professor of informatics engineering at the Technological Educational Institute of Crete, Greece, where he leads the Intelligent Systems and Computer Architecture Group. His research interests include multicore architectures, high-speed communication architectures, and embedded and reconfigurable systems. Kornaros has designed single-chip network processors for industry, published more than 60 scientific articles, and edited the book “Multi-Core Embedded Systems.” He holds two patents and is a member of the Technical Chamber of Greece. Contact him at kornaros@ie.teicrete.gr.