Learning with Pi
L. Ben. Crenshaw
Learning with Pi
One of the most exciting pursuits in higher education is a degree in computer science. Most students that wish to achieve this program began with computers as a hobby. In 1976 computer hobbyists Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak founded Apple Computers due to their years experimenting with and programming computers. Many more entrepreneurs followed, and an entire industry evolved from the efforts of those enthusiasts. Today, the spirit of that innovation continues with the Raspberry Pi. Created for students by the Raspberry Pi Foundation (Zikzilch, 2013), the device is a small, fully functioning microelectronic computer estimated at only $35 USD. The small form factor allows all the required processor speed, memory, and peripherals needed to run most tasks. Many computer classes require an understanding of computers and the Raspberry Pi is an inexpensive and effective way familiarize students with Information Technology. However, the most challenging courses in this degree require a mastery in software design and electronics. Because of this, the Raspberry Pi can significantly benefit IT students by exposing them to programming logic and principles of electronics.
Programming is an essential skill taught in university IT programs; however, students approach the subject with difficulty and some anxiety. Without prior experience in a programming language, these courses may prove too challenging. The Raspberry Pi provides many projects that expose the student to the programming language called Python. Python is a powerful software language. It is both easy to use and flexible enough to create useful programs for the Pi (Monk, 2012). Using this language students will develop a plethora of software from productivity programs to games. Learning Python with the Raspberry Pi helps students grasp complex concepts such as strings, variables, and data structures. Using code created by the student can assist in mastering key programming principles and inspire creativity. One such project is Pygame which is a graphics and video gaming platform. Pygame teaches the programmer to utilize computer graphics and the language’s sound libraries to produce real-time results. Strategy games, such as chess, can be built from the ground up using this high-level language. Because of the popularity of Python and the growing fascination with the Raspberry Pi there are many books, forums, and online resources to support the novice Pi programmer.
Students can also learn about basic electronics. The device includes an Ethernet port, two USB connectors, HDMI connection, SD card slot, and a mini-USB port power supply. One may even expand the hardware by attaching a USB hub to enable additional devices. Since there are literally hundreds of projects for the Raspberry Pi, students are able to build their own electronic computer to perform and automate several tasks. In the process of developing a project, the student resolves technical problems hands-on, gaining valuable experience outside the classroom. One popular project that provides both education and entertainment is RaspBMC. RaspBMC is a port of the popular XMBC media player used to manage, view, and stream video, music, and photo archives. Since it is based on the Debian Linux operating system, students familiarize themselves with the installation and configuration of this popular operating system. During the setup, the student assembles the Raspberry Pi according to a set of detailed plans. This enforces concepts of electronic design giving the student the opportunity to follow specific instructions. Once all the cables are connected and powered on, a fully functioning media player is presented for the user to configure and enjoy.
In conclusion, the importance of obtaining practical knowledge of computers can be accomplished outside the classroom. The growing complexity of the IT degree demands a solid experience in program design and micro-electronics. Students must be able to grasp difficult concepts in hardware and software design, building upon them throughout their vocation. As they gain exposure to further IT concepts students will gain an appreciation for the versatility and creativity within Information Technology. With increases in computer science enrollment, there will be even further opportunities to learn microelectronics. Developing a hobby in this field will help those in aspiring to higher education to achieve greater understanding in this subject. For these reasons, the Raspberry Pi is a clear choice for students wishing to obtain hands-on experience with programming fundamentals and electronics principles.
Monk, D. S. (2012). Programming the Raspberry Pi. Preston: McGraw-Hill/TAB Electronics.
Zikzilch. (2013). Raspberry Pi – a brand new, $35 dollar computer! – YouTube. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://youtu.be/_UOS10PhTPs