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Perspectives On A Freshman Treatment Of Electronic Systems

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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

1553 FPD3 - Computer & Programming Tools in First Year Instruction

Tagged Division

First-Year Programs

Page Count


Page Numbers

13.976.1 - 13.976.14



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Paper Authors


John Robertson Arizona State University

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John Robertson is a Professor in the Electronic Systems Department at Arizona State University Polytechnic. He was formerly an executive with Motorola and now participates in many senior technical training programs with the JACMET consortium.

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Sarah Roux Arizona State University

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Sarah Roux is a proud Texas native with a background in the Semiconductor industry in the US and France. She was in the 2006 class and is currently a Control Systems Major with an interest in Alternative Energy. Her career goal is to help develop a progressive national energy policy.

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Vivek Ramanathan Arizona State University

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Vivek Ramanathan graduated with an MS in Microelectronics in December 2007. He supported the freshman class activities as a TA in 06 and 07. He has substantial software development experience both in India and the US.

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Mark Rager Arizona State University

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Mark Rager has worked for Intel for the last 18 years. He is currently a Senior Quality & Reliability Engineering Technician. To expand his knowledge and career as an Engineer, he is enrolled in the BS Electronics Systems program at ASU Polytechnic in Fall 2007.

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

This doesn’t mean that one third of the class had never heard of Ohm’s law. It did mean that faced with a problem that required its use, only two out of three appreciated that was what they had to do. Given this range of capabilities, some students would have found an introductory course on circuits (say) very straightforward while some of their fellows would have been struggling. By comparison, examining high level systems was a new activity for everyone. For example, no one had ever thought of a casino as an electronic system but everyone knew the functions involved and could contribute to the higher level representation – specifically, the first three levels of system breakdown (requirements, criteria for success and major functional blocks). Reaching that stage in systems analysis was the main achievement of the course. The system analysis activities do not disguise the sad fact that there was a very wide range of capabilities to manage basic concepts. This still has to be addressed in later courses but at least the students see the need to learn more and appreciate where it may be applied.

Digging deeper into the options for each functional module presented many more challenges. All the applications were new and even the students with substantial background experience found it difficult to apply their knowledge in the new context. A good example concerned the formulation of a figure of merit for system performance. The idea of creating a simple equation or ratio presented real conceptual difficulties even when the expressions were restricted to linear and inverse functions. Everyone had learned math in the context that equations are always provided and the task is to insert numbers and find an answer. The idea that an equation could be a simple statement of the relationship between variables was totally new. This is a pity because that is how they will see equations used in most professional applications.

Freshman students are eager to describe systems features using the lay terms that anyone would use for such familiar subjects. However, the jump to use higher level representational tools was a big challenge. This is a difficult conceptual issue that is not explicitly taught in any other course. Electronics has to combine charge behavior with physical features and functional environments. To manage these interactions, there is a tool box with an array of abstract representational techniques. For one electronic function, we can use any or combinations of:

Algebraic equations Boolean equations Differential equations VHDL statements SPICE statements A truth table A component circuit diagram A functional diagram A block diagram A response surface (eg: I as function of V) A simulation A plan view of a device A cross-section A process flow to create the components etc.

Robertson, J., & Roux, S., & Ramanathan, V., & Rager, M. (2008, June), Perspectives On A Freshman Treatment Of Electronic Systems Paper presented at 2008 Annual Conference & Exposition, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. 10.18260/1-2--3903

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