Making Sounds with Arduino

As limited funding and job availability looms for those immersed in humanities scholarship, the idea of taking on another set of knowledge proves impossible for many emerging scholars. Because of the large body of knowledge they must acquire within their fields, developing scholars must also work to create legible projects within an academic discourse. Being in such a stressful position makes it difficult for teachers to learn and develop technology curriculum. There is a positive outlook to using technology in the classroom, however. Humanist teachers can find digital pursuits that interest them intellectually and also engage with students in writing classes who are interested in the possibilities of technological projects. Scholars like David Rieder question the necessity of ranking practices like close reading as one of the most essential modes of the English discipline. In his 2017 project Suasive Iterations: Rhetoric, Writing, and Physical Computing, Rieder argues that personal computing and rhetoric can meet in a common space by moving away from the antiquated practices of close reading that do not also consider the potential of technological intervention. Therefore, he offers that technology can augment a close reading experience, not replace it. By denying student connections to the digital world, in his view, rhetoricians isolate their work. While the nuances of his project extend beyond my swift summary, I am intrigued at the idea of implementing some of his ideas in the classroom. As a developing literary scholar who views the value of close reading as linked with critical thinking, my inclination is to reject pieces of Rieder’s arguments. However, I recognize that it’s important for students and scholars to be generous with his ideas. By breathing life into his theoretical writings through classroom practice, I think finding analogous concepts between technology troubleshooting and essay writing can benefit students who struggle with the conventions of writing. What’s more, offering technology through personal computing in a writing classroom can open up a space for students to develop impressive projects. Using personal computing in a classroom setting can teach students how to research, revise, and edit work—even if such work is hands-on instead of textual.

Learning Objectives

The objectives behind this project are to have students re-conceptualize the process of writing. For many students in introduction to rhetoric courses, they often come from other disciplines, and take rhetoric to satisfy a core requirement in their program of study. Those with STEM backgrounds can use this lesson to understand that digital scholarship supports an overlap between the humanities and technology. This lesson might assist those who take a hands-on and technical approach to learning. Bridging the gap between learning styles shows writers in non-humanities areas that they can not only conceptualize writing similarly in terms of problem-solving, but that they can also see the value of writing within their chosen discipline or areas of professionalization.

In summary, objectives include:

  • Learn basics in Arduino software
  • Understand overlap between hands-on learning and writing
  • Consider uses for research, writing, and revision outside of the classroom

Assignment Length

Students should spend one to two class periods on this project. They should devote a small amount of time outside of class to complete a group writing assessment and self-reflection

Required Material

Arduino Uno Kit, Computer, and Software

Skills Necessary

Instructors must have some fluency in Arduino software.

Access and Adaptability

This lesson rises out of DWRL Director Dr. Casey Boyle’s “Accessible Rhetorics” graduate seminar, where students and instructor alike imagined what accessibility can look like inside and outside the classroom.

In Restricted Access: Media, Disability, and the Politics of Participation, Elizabeth Ellcessor describes the “many professionals engaged in transforming the hardware, software, and interfaces of communications and media technologies in order to enable access by people with disabilities” and that “this work is often done out of rehabilitation, special education, engineering, and other applied fields, and referred to under the umbrella of ‘assistive technologies.’ Nearly uniformly, these research and design projects attempt to alter the material and encoded forms of technology in order to make it possible for people with disabilities to use them” (90). When all of these different fields of expertise that Ellcessor points out meet they can generate exciting assistive projects. A humanities-based classroom that teaches access-based disability scholarship can empower students from many different professional backgrounds to consider how something like Arduino Uno software can generate assistive technology.

Assignment Description

This assignment would occur after the students have already done some formal writing assignments. This will be a way to break up the writing process so they can reflect on research, writing, and revision. Students will partner up or get into small groups. Each group will use an Arduino Uno Starter kit to make one of the kit’s piezo buzzers emit sound. For some this task may come fairly quickly, so if some groups finish before others more advanced groups will be tasked with getting the light sensors to light up and/or manipulating Arduino code to make a different sound pattern.

Instructor Preparation

  • Review Arduino basics.
  • Prepare written assignment specifications.
  • Map out similarities between writing and hands-on processes.

Student Preparation

  • Watch instructional video.
  • Review Arduino Uno basics.
  • Come prepared to talk about the writing process.

In-Class or Assignment Instructions

  • Make a plan as a group to get piezo buzzer to make sound.
  • Review instructional video before and during class.
  • Contribute to short written report.

Skills Workshop

Students should, in groups of three or four, utilize the DWRL’s Arduino Uno starter kit. They can use the downloaded Arduino software either on their personal computers or on the computers in the lab. I will also circulate a PDF document entitled “Getting Started with Arduino” by Massimo Banzi, the cofounder of Arduino, where they will have a resource guide for what the kit contains. This part of the lesson will occur at home, as research for class beforehand. Students will inventory quickly the purpose of each part of the kit in order to get a general idea for each part’s purpose. They will watch a video that teaches them how to use Arduino Uno computing devices as well as the computer programming software.

Assessment Suggestions

Instructors can decide whether this assignment will be something small, which will take on the form of a short assignment. However, it can also fit into a larger and ongoing project that looks at the possibilities for digital humanities and technology development in writing classrooms.

Students should create a group write-up in which they describe the process of using the Arduino, which should include technical details about computing parts and software code. In one to two sentences they should also describe how they divided up the work of getting the piezo buzzer to make sound. In their report they should include what each person contributed, as well as what the group succeeded and struggled with. In a concluding statement, students should address how the process of tinkering mirrors the processes of research, writing, and revision. In their own separate reflective statements they should address the challenges of the writing process, and how their experience working with Arduinos was either more comfortable or challenging than essay writing.

The instructor will not evaluate a student on whether they successfully make a sound with an Arduino buzzer, but they will instead evaluate how the student assesses their successes and failures in getting their Arduino to make sound. Most importantly, their assessment of analogous features between the writing and tinkering process should demonstrate a clear and thoughtful engagement. This engagement will be at the core of the assignment’s rubric.

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