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Increasing Student Retention And Comprehension By Providing Every Student Their Own Industry Standard Tools In Introductory Engineering Classes

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2008 Annual Conference & Exposition


Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Publication Date

June 22, 2008

Start Date

June 22, 2008

End Date

June 25, 2008



Conference Session

New Trends in ECE Education I

Tagged Division

Electrical and Computer

Page Count


Page Numbers

13.738.1 - 13.738.14



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Paper Authors

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Andrew O'Fallon Washington State University

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Jack R Hagemeister Washington State University

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Clint Cole Washington State University, Pullman

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Joseph Harris Digilent Inc.

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



Recent improvements in the design of microcontrollers and the availability of free development tools now allow each student to have access to state of the art development tools and hardware. Students must be provided access to these industry leading tools to be competent and competitive in the marketplace.

A study to be conducted at Washington State University will measure changes in student performance and retention when first year engineering students have exposure and unlimited access to state of the art development tools and hardware. Data will be collected from surveys, exams, project reports, laboratory assignments, and homework. Quantitative data will be analyzed by comparison to historical data gathered from student groups that did not have exposure to and unlimited access to development tools. Qualitative data will be used to determine the subjective quality of each student’s experience.

Each student will be given a Digilent CerebotII board that contains an Atmel ATMega64L microcontroller. The ATMega64L microcontroller is an industry standard device that features several peripheral devices, including timers, serial communication methods and analog to digital converters. The CerebotII has 52 user configurable I/O pins, multiple power supply options and will be used in several projects ranging from toggling an onboard LED to controlling a complex robot. The CerebotII will be programmed using the Atmel’s free AVR Studio 4 IDE that can compile code written in either C or assembly.

Specific outcomes will include assessing whether retention of students in engineering related studies increases; whether the overall learning process was improved; whether students have a better knowledge of modern technologies and development methods; and whether student comprehension of founding concepts improves.


Teaching microcontroller systems courses to undergraduate students present many challenges. These challenges include selecting appropriate microcontroller topics, microcontroller hardware units, and development software. Microcontroller courses comprise fundamental concepts from electrical engineering, computer engineering, and computer science disciplines. Exploring electrical characteristics of microcontrollers, computer architecture, and assembly language programming are a few of these key concepts. Assortments of microcontrollers are available that may be applied to an undergraduate microcontrollers course. Selecting a microcontroller that allows students to apply classroom ideas freely to physical hardware devices is a daunting task. Further, discovering an embedded microcontroller board that supports simple interfacing with peripheral devices and that uses robust tools is perhaps more daunting. This paper discusses a

O'Fallon, A., & Hagemeister, J. R., & Cole, C., & Harris, J. (2008, June), Increasing Student Retention And Comprehension By Providing Every Student Their Own Industry Standard Tools In Introductory Engineering Classes Paper presented at 2008 Annual Conference & Exposition, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. 10.18260/1-2--4284

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