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Embedded Computing Reinforces and Integrates Concepts Across the ECE Curriculum

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2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Indianapolis, Indiana

Publication Date

June 15, 2014

Start Date

June 15, 2014

End Date

June 18, 2014



Conference Session

Outstanding Contributions to Student Learning through Laboratory Experiences

Tagged Division

Division Experimentation & Lab-Oriented Studies

Page Count


Page Numbers

24.470.1 - 24.470.12

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Paper Authors


Harry Courtney Powell University of Virginia

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Harry Powell received the B.S. in Electrical Engineering the University of Virginia in 1978, a M.S. in Electrical Engineering in 2006, and the Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering in 2011. Dr. Powell spent over 20 years in industry designing computer controlled automated systems before returning to academia in 2001. He was appointed to the faculty in 2013, and teaches courses in electric and electronic circuit analysis, electromagnetic energy conversion, embedded computing, and the 4th year Major Design Experience.
Joanne Bechta Dugan was awarded the B.A. degree in Mathematics and Computer Science from La Salle University, Philadelphia, PA in 1980, and the M.S. and PhD degrees in Electrical Engineering from Duke University, Durham, NC in 1982 and 1984, respectively. She has performed and directed research on the development and application of techniques for the analysis of computer systems which are designed to tolerate hardware and software faults. Dr. Dugan is an IEEE Fellow. She was Associate Editor of the IEEE Transactions on Reliability for 10 years, and is currently Associate Editor of the IEEE Transactions on Software Engineering. She served on the National Research Council Committee on Application of Digital Instrumentation and Control Systems to Nuclear Power Plant Operations and Safety. She is also a member of Eta Kappa Nu, and Phi Beta Kappa. Previously, she taught at Duke University and worked as a visiting scientist at the Research Triangle Institute.

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Joanne Bechta Dugan University of Virginia

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Joanne Bechta Dugan is Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering and the Director of the Computer Engineering Programs at the University of Virginia. Her research focuses on probabilistic assessment of the dependability of computer-based systems. She has developed the dynamic fault tree model, which extends the applicability of fault tree analysis to computer systems. Current work focuses on the development of new technologies and engineering approaches to evaluate and improve engineering education, both in traditional classroom setting and in non-traditional on-line settings. Dugan holds a B.A. degree in Mathematics and Computer Science from La Salle University, and M.S. and PhD degrees in Electrical Engineering from Duke University.

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Embedded computing reinforces and integrates concepts across ECE curriculumAn examination of the Electrical and Computer Engineering curriculum in many programsacross the United States reveals that there is a large commonality in course content and programrequirements.. Many ECE curricula begin with linear circuits and digital logic followed by ,electronics, signals and systems, electromagnetic fields, and so forth. While there have beenpedagogical advances, i.e. "flipped" classrooms, problem-oriented instruction or interactivecourse content, there has been much less work in combining concepts across the entire spectrumof the curriculum. We have observed that many students have a strong tendency to put theconcepts from each course into its own box, separate and unrelated to the concepts and materialsin other boxes.Contrast this state of affairs with the modern engineering environment, especially for electricaland computer engineers. Virtually all non-trivial systems - electronic automotive engine controlunits for example - involve concepts from across the entire spectrum of ECE. Furthermore thecentral component that integrates these concepts is an embedded computer. With these thoughtsin mind, we have developed an introductory course in embedded computing, and established it asa nexus of concepts from across the curriculum.Laboratory work is the heart of this course. Each lecture is tightly integrated with subsequentlaboratory work, and studio techniques are often employed, wherein the laboratory and lectureoccur within the same physical space and overlap with each other. Furthermore we havedesigned low cost hardware, based on industry-standard components that enable students to ownvirtually all of the required course material, facilitating experimentation on their own outside ofthe traditional laboratory environment as well.Each experiment is designed with two goals in mind. The first is to understand and employ anembedded computing concept such as direct memory access and analog to digital conversionwithin the context of a programming assignment with functional and performance requirements.The second equally important goal is to require the use of concepts from elsewhere in thecurriculum in order to complete the experiment successfully. For example, one of ourexperiments involves signal acquisition and filtering to reduce the effects of interference. As partof this sequence, students review sampling concepts from signals and systems, and efficientnumerical manipulations from digital logic design. Throughout the course, concepts merged withembedded computing include power electronics, feedback and control, and communicationstheory as well as computing concepts such as algorithm analysis, dataflow, state machines,testing and validation.This embedded computing course has been offered in 5 consecutive semesters (with refinementseach time). Interest and student demand have been high and increasing, even as the course isseen as challenging and time consuming. Most assignments have baseline requirements andoptional “challenges.” Most students can meet the baseline requirements, although the time andeffort needed varies significantly. Some students meet the challenges; these students are oftenselected as teaching assistants in later semesters.Our course is consistently full, and extremely well received with students. Other faculty havebeen favorably impressed with our contribution to the curriculum.

Powell, H. C., & Dugan, J. B. (2014, June), Embedded Computing Reinforces and Integrates Concepts Across the ECE Curriculum Paper presented at 2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Indianapolis, Indiana.

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