Syllabus sharing: Electronics and Sculpture, a class with arduino, mechatronics, and art at UWM

The Arduino Uno microcontroller

This term sees my first time teaching a full semester of Arduino in the Department of Art and Design at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Most geeks will know that the Arduino is an open source microcontroller for physical computing projects. Easy break down: whereas multimedia and code art classes (in Processing or Max or openFrameworks, for example) might have students make generative or interactive work that utilizes anything which already communicates with your computer via USB or bluetooth or the internet (a kinect for body tracking, a Wii for dancing, web cams, mics, or data streaming from sources online for input; printers, projectors, speakers or screens for output), the Arduino (and things like it) allows for non-standard, analog interfaces: flex sensors, light cells, or sonar for input, for example, motors, lights, fans, or solenoids (to control water or air) for output.

a student favorite: Danny Rozin’s “Wooden Mirror,” which depicts real-time, reflected video in rotating wood chips. Click for video with awesome sound. Danny was my prof!

Most of my students have little or no background in coding, and even fewer have any experience with electronics when they sign up… meaning, this syllabus will work as an introduction. That said, I offer it at the 300-level, so that my digital art students will understand bits and bytes, audio and video, how computers “think,” and my other artists will be able to bring their skills with crafting images or objects (etc) into the mix. I also “stack” it with a 400-level class, so grad students, or advanced students that want to take it a second time, can add another dimension of creativity and criticality.

If you can’t tell, I’m excited about it.

I’m sharing three documents with the inter-webs. One is the core syllabus; another is the advanced syllabus; and the last is the calendar. They are all under a CC-by license (Creative Commons Attribution), meaning, you can do whatever you want with them (use, distribute, remix, etc), so long as you credit me and acknowledge the license I used, link back to this page, and do not prohibit anyone else from doing said same.

The semester arc goes something like this:

  • look at cool stuff
  • build mechatronic paper sculptures (thanks https://www.robives.com!)
  • understand electricity and make a creative project with a simple circuit
  • make digital inputs and digital outputs with Arduino (and produce another creative tech project)
  • find inspirational work, while learning coding and prototyping
  • construct analog ins and outs as part of artistic endeavors
  • sketching and inspiration, writing and thinking, aesthetics and ethics, with digital and electronic media
  • sensors and actuators (and not fetishizing them – oh my)
  • transistors and relays, serial communication and integrated circuits, PCBs (printed circuit boards)
  • and finally, lots of studio critique and makey makeys towards a final object or installation

I also require documentation of everything in photo and video and text as part of the class, so you can expect to see some of that at the end of the term. This got us started last week (and you can follow when I assign readings in the syllabus/schedule):

Required Books/Readings

Required Materials/Supplies

There are also some recommended (read: not required) books for them, which you should definitely get for your classroom, in the attached documents.

Here are the 300-level and 400-level syllabi, and my schedule for the term (meets twice a week for 2.5 hours), in RTF format (open in Word if you have it – they’ll look better / have the images), as I first conceptualized them at the start of the term. I’ll upload any major changes if/when they happen, and note that here. Please let me know (via comments, or email if comments are closed) if you find this helpful; it’s always good to hear from folks. Speaking of, I’m also happy to share how I spent my lab fee dollars, or specific lecture notes, if someone needs/asks; but that’d take a bit more organization, so I’ll only do it on request (but then I’ll post it and credit the asker).

Conversely, I’m yet to decide on the more conceptual readings for my students, if you have ideas! In my Interactive and Generative Art class, we read a bit by me, Katja Kwastek, Kate Hayles, Kate Mondloch, and Philip Galanter. But I’ve not found something that punctures the right images for me in the kinetic/physical computing realm. Perhaps I won’t find it in the standard places… Should we look at Minimalist sculpture writings? Or perhaps Brian Massumi on Stelarc? I have time, and will post when I decide, but I would welcome suggestions, again in the comments or via email if comments are closed…

Enjoy art, teaching, and learning!