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Revising A Micro Controller Course For Engineering Physics Students

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2010 Annual Conference & Exposition


Louisville, Kentucky

Publication Date

June 20, 2010

Start Date

June 20, 2010

End Date

June 23, 2010



Conference Session

Innovations in Teaching Physics or Engineering Physics

Tagged Division

Engineering Physics & Physics

Page Count


Page Numbers

15.1040.1 - 15.1040.10



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Paper Authors


Jian Peng Southeast Missouri State University

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Jian Peng received his B.E. degree from Zhejiang University, Hangzhou, China in 1992, his M.S. degree from Hangzhou Institute of Electronic Engineering, Hangzhou, China in 1995, and his Ph.D. degree in electrical engineering from Vanderbilt University, Nashville, in 2004.

He is currently an Assistant Professor in the Department of Physics and Engineering Physics at Southeast Missouri State University. His research focuses on intelligent robotics and computer vision. He is a member of ASEE and IEEE.

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

Revising a Microcontroller Course for Engineering Physics Students


Microcontroller courses usually require students to have a solid background in digital electronics, computer architecture, and software programming due to the complex nature of these devices, yet most non-EE engineering students have only limited exposure to these topics before they enter the course. At Southeast Missouri State University a microcontroller course for Engineering Physics has been heavily revamped in the last several years to deal with these special challenges. By using the detailed logic and block diagrams from PIC18 data sheet, digital logic, computer architecture, and peripheral hardware issues are discussed throughout the course so that the students gain a working knowledge of these topics. Hands-on learning is emphasized through simulation, hardware and software labs, and a final project. Also we emphasize the system-level design, high-level language, and connections between the C language, assembly, and the underline hardware architecture. The outcomes of this course have shown that this approach (1) inspires engineering physics students to be interested in microcontrollers, (2) provides students with a less compartmentalized view of many hardware/software topics, and finally (3) underscores the importance of system-level design with just enough understanding about individual components or subsystems.

I. Introduction

The use of embedded microcontrollers has become pervasive in every aspect of our life, both in scientific/professional life and in our daily life. Learning the microcontrollers has become necessary not just for the electrical engineering and computer science majors, but also many other disciplines, such as mechanical engineering, engineering science, and even physics.

Traditional microcontroller courses taught in EE curriculum usually have a reputation of “difficult to teach for professors and difficult to understand for students”. This is partly due to two reasons. First, microcontrollers are progressing very rapidly and are becoming more and more complex and complicated. Second, microcontrollers are used mainly in real-time embedded systems, and as a result, teaching application aspect of microcontrollers requires students to learn extra knowledge in the application domains. Obviously, it is difficult to cover all these topics in the short hours assigned to the microcontroller course. A typical course can only focus on a few topics, usually assembly language programming and a few selected peripheral devices. Due to time limit, the internal hardware architecture of the CPU and the peripheral devices is usually only discussed superficially, and the microcontroller is regarded as a “black box” computing machine that just follows the assembly instructions.

Teaching and learning the microcontrollers can be even more difficult for non-EE students because these students usually do not have enough backgrounds in many topics necessary for embedded system design, such as digital logic, electronics, computer architecture, and software programming. More importantly, they also usually have a compartmentalized view of these

Peng, J. (2010, June), Revising A Micro Controller Course For Engineering Physics Students Paper presented at 2010 Annual Conference & Exposition, Louisville, Kentucky. 10.18260/1-2--16801

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