- Using a separate skills-based library – Much of electronics is about practicing various skills over and over again. PCB layout, soldering, programming, choosing parts, simulations…all of these things come up again and again while doing project based instruction. We have broken them out in the CE 3.0.
- Using a separate forum – This and every other version of CE has been built upon WordPress. While the content management system and the available plugins has removed the need for a fully custom site, it also was always very limited on the availability of a proper forum solution. We wanted users to be able to interact with one another, but the software was limiting. For CE 3.0, we have implemented a Discourse forum (the same software that runs the KiCad User Forum). This is still tied to the posts and courses that appear on the main site. Most importantly, we are allowing access for users outside of Contextual Electronics (ie. anyone can register on the forum site). We will write more on this in future posts, but are hoping that the forum will become a resource for all people looking to get started on their electronics journey.
- Allowing direct tutoring at any level – The past versions of Contextual Electronics tied the tutoring from the CE instructors only to the members at the very highest tier. In retrospect, this seems silly. The users that are just getting started and likely to be signed up for the lower tiers of content are some of the most likely users to need one-on-one instruction. This is now broken out as a separate purchase and any user can sign up for weekly meetings with an electronics instructor.
- Directly tracking course progress for each user – This was a feature available in CE 1.0 but was removed in CE 2.0 to attempt to drive greater integration of the forum and the course content. We have implemented a learning management system that will show each user which module they have marked complete, allowing them to easily see where they left off. This is also shown on the right column for all course modules to easily show how much content is remaining and to allow users to navigate forward and backward in a particular project module.
- Focusing more on individual modules – Each incarnation of the site seems to move to smaller and smaller projects. This is not because a small project is “easy” (difficult projects are in the queue!). It’s because members can start and finish the projects without needing months of dedication. The reality is that Contextual Electronics is not like a University program: most users will not be able to dedicate months of their lives towards building a single project with no guarantee of success. We have broken out projects into digestible chunks of content, each still focusing on making a board that functions at the end of the project. This is accentuated by the new CE header, which will enable small projects with quick turnaround times.
- Better logistics – The back-end processing and access management of the past versions of the site was always a bit cumbersome. The newest version of the site allows switching between various subscription levels with ease, swapping out payment methods easily and many other self-serve options. We are also running on an updated and optimized webserver, meant to deliver content at a much more consistent speed.
There are many things that are staying the same:
- Using low-cost, accessible tools – Using KiCad and readily available test equipment and hand-tools.
- Implementing project based instruction – All instruction will still focus on pairing theory and practice simultaneously. For any theory that is not already covered, it will be referenced at the point where it’s needed (Just in time learning)
- Direct access to instructors -While the forum is the preferred method of communication for all content based questions, users can email firstname.lastname@example.org at any time.
- Allowing easy payment options – We still use Stripe to implement our subscription payment system.
- High quality video – We are still using Vimeo to store and deliver the various videos used for course content.
We are excited for this next version of Contextual Electronics. We think it will allow more efficient learning and greater connection between members of the program. Please let us know what you think!