Flowcode and E-blocks FAQ

A place to discuss any problems, issues or questions surrounding the E-blocks BTEC Unit 6 course.

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Flowcode and E-blocks FAQ

Post by Steve »

We have received a number of queries regarding the use of Flowcode and/or E-blocks for delivering Unit 6 of the new BTEC as well as other educational courses. Here is a set of FAQs that hopefully answer most questions:

Edexcel BTEC National in Engineering, unit 6 & other microcontroller qualifications FAQ’s
1. Can students use Flowcode and E-blocks2 for the final assessment for BTEC National Extended Diploma unit 6 (Microcontroller Systems)?
Pearson’s have accredited both Flowcode and E-blocks as acceptable equipment to be used in the final external assessment for this unit. Flowcode is written into the specification, as one of the appropriate deliverable programming languages. Arduino and PIC are listed as hardware families that can be used. Both platforms are available in the E-blocks and E-blocks2 range.
2. Can my students use a copy of Flowcode at home on their own laptop/PC?
If you have bought academic Flowcode licences for your educational institution, you are eligible for completely free Flowcode licences at home.
To gain access to these licences, you will need to send us an Excel spreadsheet including: first name (column A), second name (column B) and email address (column C) of your students. We will then send the licence activation to their email addresses.
3. I do not have a microcontroller or electronics background or experience. How should I approach the microcontroller systems unit?
At Matrix we offer a good level of support across our range and in particular for this new, mandatory unit. Starting with our software: Flowcode.

Flowcode allows students to write programs to be complied on to microcontrollers using flowcharts. Programs can be simulated on screen, before being complied to hardware devices. This simplifies the process of programming, and reduces mistakes in writing code.

In terms of hardware platforms, Matrix have developed a Microcontroller Systems kit, this is a complete kit which will satisfy most basic microcontroller courses, and covers well the unit on microcontroller systems in the BTEC National extended diploma. We offer both Arduino and PIC versions.

We also provide a written course, which suits most microcontroller courses. This course includes teachers notes, step by step lesson plans, student handouts and assumes no prior knowledge of programming.

Matrix can also provide ‘train the trainer’ days, either at our HQ in Halifax, or at your institution.
4. I don’t have a microcontroller or electronics background, but I need to teach a unit in which microcontrollers are addressed. Which microcontroller family should I choose? And which do Matrix support?
PIC – Reliable, easy to use and slightly lower in cost. Very easy to program using languages such as C or to develop code using higher level languages, such as Flowcode.

Arduino – A rapidly growing platform. C through the Arduino IDE and Flowcode are very easy but the chips generally more hidden potential problems lurking than PICs and are also slightly more expensive.

PICAXE – Basically a PIC with an interpreter pre-flashed on the device. You are tied into the PICAXE software and have to buy special pre-programmed chips from them. The chip is never going to run as well as with native C as the code is being parsed and executed by the interpreter.

At Matrix, we support PIC and Arduino. Flowcode allows you to utilise either platform and we offer hardware solutions for both.
5. I think that teaching and learning using Flowcode will make things easier, but is Flowcode used in industry?
Flowcode currently has ~20,000 users within academia worldwide, and also boasts thousands of professional users. Professional user numbers are increasing, and the software is used more and more for especially for rapid prototyping or for product development in small engineering teams who lack dedicated embedded engineering support.
6. If I buy Flowcode version 7, and Matrix bring out a new version, will I be entitled to and upgrade discount?
All part/patch upgrades are free, however, full upgrades, e.g. from version 7 to version 8, will be chargeable, but you will qualify for a 50% discount.
7. I have a student who has used ‘C Code’ before, how can this be incorporated into Flowcode?
Flowcode not only allows users to program using flowcharts, but also allows more advanced users to program in code such as C. Inputting C code, switching between flowchart and C mode is all very easy and can help the development of a programming “beginner” into a more experienced programmer.
8. How do I get Flowcode on the numerous devices?
The Flowcode installer comes as an MSI and as such can be rolled out to any Windows network easily. To register and activate your newly installed Flowcode licence you can use the command line to activate, the process for this is outlined in this FAQ.
9. How can I try out Flowcode?
A full downloadable trial licence of Flowcode can be found here. Users can utilise the completely free version, or unlock Flowcode for 30 days to make the most of the full feature portfolio. This can therefore be used by academics as an analytical tool prior to purchase.
10. Is offline help available for Flowcode & E-blocks?
Yes, offline help is available and it comes in the form of a download of the “Flowcode Wiki” which will run in most standard web browsers, you can download the compacted wiki from an FAQ on our site, available here.
11. Can I use the Flowcode & E-blocks to learn about serial communications and I2C device interfacing?
Yes, Flowcode features both low-level components for driving communications peripherals and high-level components for communicating with specific modules. This allows you to choose which level you want to come in at when learning to use communications. When using E-blocks and Flowcode together the Ghost - In Circuit Test mode allows you to monitor and decode the communication signals.

The microcontrollers we supply all have I2C and SPI peripherals on-board and Flowcode can also output I2C and SPI via generic I/O pins.

I2C and SPI are communications buses that will talk to other micros or external modules such as memory ICs, SD cards etc.
12. Can I use Flowcode without E-blocks or do I have to use them both?
We have designed Flowcode and E-blocks to be flexible learning resources that can be used together or independently.

Flowcode is a general microcontroller programming environment which can be used with a wide range of hardware platforms and currently supports around 1,500 different microcontrollers including PIC, AVR, Arduino and ARM. Flowcode can be used with many 3rd party development boards and can also be used with raw microcontrollers on breadboards or user-designed PCBs.

Similarly, E-blocks can be used independently with other software. For example, the Arduino IDE can be used to reprogram an Arduino to control attached E-blocks and Microchip’s MPLAB can be used with our PIC-based E-blocks solution.

However, we believe that using Flowcode in conjunction with E-blocks provides the best educational platform for learning about microcontrollers.

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