PURE team builds interactive online lecture website

ECE News

Susan Kantor, ECE ILLINOIS

Story Highlights

  • ECE graduate student Geoffrey Herman mentored undergraduates Pallav Pathak and Jerry Yang in building an interactive course website for PURE.
  • Pathak and Yang researched open-source, free software to make the site as low-cost and attractive to instructors as possible.
  • At the end of the semester, the team presented its project to other groups working through PURE.

Jerry Yang (left) and Pallav Pathak created an interactive, very low cost online lecture system through PURE during the spring 2010 semester.
Jerry Yang (left) and Pallav Pathak created an interactive, very low cost online lecture system through PURE during the spring 2010 semester.

ECE graduate student Geoffrey Herman and undergraduates Pallav Pathak and Jerry Yang spent the spring 2010 semester creating an interactive, very low cost online lecture system through PURE (Promoting Undergraduate Research in Engineering). PURE brings together graduate student mentors and undergraduates who work on research projects for a semester.

Herman, who mentored Pathak and Yang, researches how students, especially in introductory ECE classes, misinterpret information taught in class.

“I realized a lot of the mistakes students make are because we kind of toss students into the deep end and say, ‘Learn how to swim,’” Herman said. “If you did that to any swimmer, they wouldn’t be as good as someone who slowly worked up.”

Inspired by that research, Herman set out to design a course website with short lectures and assignments that could teach students who knew very little about the topic.

Geoffrey Lindsay Herman
Geoffrey Lindsay Herman

Pathak and Yang researched open-source and free software to incorporate with the site, which is tentatively named “E-clicker.” 

 “We had to use building blocks from all over the Internet,” said Pathak, at the time a sophomore in ECE. “We used YouTube for uploading the videos, and there’s software called Camstudio that’s used for recording lectures.”

Blogspot, the blogging service from Google, was used to build the site, and the quizzes were constructed with Question Pro.

“We spent time comparing different open sources, which ones were more powerful and suitable to our system,” said Yang, then a freshman in physics transferring to ECE. 

Each week, Herman, Pathak, and Yang met to discuss their progress. Yang said the project was a good opportunity for undergraduates and graduate students to work together and share their ideas. 

“At every weekly meeting, we would discuss our findings and our thoughts about the project,” Yang said. “We did have some different ideas, and we learned how to overcome difficulties and get some new ideas.”

Pathak and Yang spent one week toward the end of the semester to present the site to other students, gathering their survey responses to find ways to improve it. Suggestions included a discussion board and subtitles for video lectures.

“Our main aim was to make it not only user-friendly but also friendly to an instructor for a course,” Pathak said.

No programming skills are required to use the site, and it costs about 40 cents per day to access the Question Pro software.

And the team hopes this project will continue. Herman has applied for several campus-level grants to help further the project. When planning for teaching ECE 410: Digital Signal Processing this summer, Herman anticipated mostly online lectures and using class time for problem-solving sessions.

“It’s building off what we did from the PURE project and putting it into the classroom for the first time,” Herman said.

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