In January this year Ashesi University, Ghana was one of the first academic institutions in Africa to adopt our textbook, Embedded Systems Fundamentals with Arm Cortex-M based Microcontrollers: A Practical Approach. We spoke to Francis Gatsi, Lecturer in Computer Science and Engineering at the college, to find out more about his teaching philosophy and challenges faced in introducing Embedded Systems courses into a Liberal Arts curriculum.
Arm Education Media: Please introduce yourself to our readers.
Francis Gatsi: I am a Lecturer in the Computer Science and Engineering departments of the Ashesi University, currently teaching courses in Communication Systems, Embedded Systems and Networks & Data Communications.
Prior to moving into academia, I worked for 15 years in the telecommunications sector, and the last six of those years as a Consultant Engineer on the Ericsson Mobile Radio Access Networks (RAN) platform. I am an IEEE Wireless Communications Professional, and hold a BSc in Electrical and Electronic Engineering, an MSc in Information and Telecommunications Technologies, and a Master of Communications (ICT) Management.
My industrial experience has helped me develop an in-depth insight into the interplay between technology and business, having worked in operator, managed services and vendor environments.
Arm Education Media: What made you decide to move from the telecommunications industry into teaching?
Francis Gatsi: It has been my desire to end my active years in academia. I felt there were a lot of things I would like to do that the industry work environment did not give me time to do. Entering academia affords me the opportunity to explore more, take my PhD, and build the capacity to contribute to emerging areas such as Internet of Things (IoT).
Arm Education Media: Can you describe Ghana’s Ashesi University College for us? What challenges and opportunities are you facing in teaching Embedded Systems there?
Francis Gatsi: Ashesi University is the only Liberal Arts institution in Ghana. Built on the three pillars of scholarship, leadership and citizenship, its mission is to educate “ethical and entrepreneurial leaders in Africa". Students are actively encouraged to cultivate their critical thinking skills, concern for others and the courage required to transform our continent.
Video: A Quick Tour of Ashesi's Campus in 60 seconds
The students I teach are adept at doing things with their hands and most of them have played with Arduino systems. However, the main challenge with the Embedded Systems course is what we call the “prerequisite gap”. Let me explain further. We have two cohorts: final year Computer Science students taking the subject as an elective, and third year Electrical and Computer Engineering students who take it as a required course. As the courses were being delivered, we discovered that we had to fill in ‘knowledge gaps’, especially for the Engineering students. Nevertheless, the students are now fast becoming conversant with the concepts and some of the juniors are considering taking capstone projects in this area.
Arm Education Media: How do you prepare for your Embedded Systems class? How have the Arm Education materials helped you here?
Francis Gatsi: Adopting the Embedded Systems Fundamentals textbook by Alex Dean, along with the Efficient Embedded Systems Design and Programming Education Kit from the Arm University Program has helped tremendously. My preparation starts with reading the topic in the textbook and studying the slides provided in the Education Kit. I then complement this with relevant materials from the internet and supplementary texts. My approach is to treat the topics as concepts, plus applications. The aim is to make it easy for students to transfer the knowledge acquired in my courses to other systems they may work with in future.
Arm Education Media: Embedded technologies are growing at an exponential rate, especially with the rise of IoT. What opportunities and challenges do you see in embedded systems for your students as they move from school to the workplace?
Francis Gatsi: The opportunities are enormous and limitless. The quest to make everything smart requires that sensing components be integrated or added on to existing systems. This cuts across many fields including transportation, health, agriculture, education, logistics and industry, ushering in the industrial IoT. Therefore, by developing the capability of programming embedded systems to interact with the environment through sensing and actuation, students are poised for a never-ending adventure.
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