Understanding Wireless


When exploring a potential course in the field of wireless technology, we were aware that engineering courses addressing wireless communication existed and that telecommunications policy courses were available as MOOCs. But, none were cohesive and appropriate for a more general, non­-expert learner population. We ultimately determined that such an approach would require a breadth of knowledge, represented in the four distinguished scholars--Patricia Bellia, Barry Keating, Nicholas J. Laneman, Aaron Striegel--who were brought on board to develop this course.

The Challenge

In this project our faculty wanted to provide content to enhance learner understanding of the technical, regulatory, and economic aspects of the mobile wireless revolution and to create opportunities to explore technology’s impact on society. The course concepts included the representation, transmission and reception of electrical information, the physical properties of radio signals and other wireless media, the principles and challenges of sharing a common medium, privacy and security issues, as well as the social, commercial and health implications of wireless communications. Our challenge was to create a course that would be engaging and effective for both engineering and non-­engineering majors.

Our Solution

To create an engaging and effective course for engineering and non-engineering majors alike, our team emphasized a cohesive course design that continuously addressed the real interweaving of the disciplines in the development of these technologies in the United States. Supplemental animations and visualizations were created to simulate the behaviors and movements of data across networks to help learners’ conceptualize details that would be otherwise difficult to comprehend. Faculty were filmed in familiar settings around the campus of Notre Dame as they discussed implications of some of the most significant developments in the fields of technology, regulation, and market forces as related to wireless technology.  

While much of the content was presented from the perspective of the United States, students from around the world were given time and space in the course to research developments in their own countries and share these with the class. Tools were provided in the class for students to run basic simulations and experiments on their own devices to learn hands-on how packets traverse networks and how computers are programmed ‘to play nicely with one another’ on wi-fi networks. 

At its launch over 5,000 learners enrolled in Understanding Wireless from more than 175 countries. Understanding Wireless is still online and available for learners to take as a self-paced course. To date, over 12,000 learners have taken the course.