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Embedded Systems Education Via Dissection

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2007 Annual Conference & Exposition


Honolulu, Hawaii

Publication Date

June 24, 2007

Start Date

June 24, 2007

End Date

June 27, 2007



Conference Session

Embedded Computing

Tagged Division

Computers in Education

Page Count


Page Numbers

12.596.1 - 12.596.14



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Paper Authors

author page

J.W. Bruce Mississippi State University

author page

Lee Hathcock Mississippi State Univ.

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Embedded Systems Education via Dissection


For years, biology and zoology education has required the dissection of small animals to aid in the understanding of physiology and anatomy. Dissection provides the student with the ability to peer inside the inner workings of biological bodies to see how the pieces fit to together in a very physical way. But, in the end, the biologist only “analyzes” physiology, and only rarely gets to “synthesize” a similar design. Engineers, on the other hand, spend most of their careers designing devices and systems. It seems only logical that engineers would benefit as much, or more, than biologists from dissection exercises. This paper describes the experiences of the author with dissection of consumer electronics in an offering of a semester-long embedded systems class for seniors and introductory graduate students. Example dissections will be presented and discussed. The paper will detail how the dissections furthered the class toward its educational objectives. Finally, qualitative comments from students will be provided, along with observations from the instructor.


Mississippi State University has recently revised its undergraduate computer engineering (CPE) program with input from alumni and advisory employers. The CPE program has focused on embedded computer systems. Embedded systems form a rich application source through which CPE education can be made relevant. Embedded computer systems are a timely subject that is immediately useful to students in their senior design projects. Furthermore, a large number of our CPE graduates currently use or design embedded computer systems in their jobs.

Recently, a team-based progressive embedded systems design course was developed that, in addition to providing the technical embedded systems knowledge, develops team and communication skills in situations emulative of industry1. The course was a success by many accounts; however, student teams abandoned sound design practices in attempt to meet the demanding 16-week “time-to-market” constraint. Team members produced defect-riddled designs and the design schedules slipped due to an unproductive test-redesign-test development cycle.

Later2, the course was retooled to use a lightweight design process based loosely on proven software engineering standards4,5,6 which detects defects during design. This development process has been used with success in the subsequent offerings of the design course based on a more complex project3. The resulting student designs are typically on time and of high quality. Furthermore, students report satisfaction with the experience, because of both the visible results at course end and the perceived relevance of the process that they used.

All of these course offerings1,2,3 have made a visible impact on the computer engineering program at Mississippi State University. Computer engineering student projects in the capstone design course have greater complexity and are of higher quality compared to previous years.

Bruce, J., & Hathcock, L. (2007, June), Embedded Systems Education Via Dissection Paper presented at 2007 Annual Conference & Exposition, Honolulu, Hawaii. 10.18260/1-2--2170

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