June 20, 2010
June 20, 2010
June 23, 2010
Computers in Education
15.1051.1 - 15.1051.10
Schematic Capture and Technical Drawing Software for Computer Engineering
Computer engineering students have specific needs involving schematic capture, printed circuit board layout, and block diagrams. The microprocessor devices course that I teach involves the construction of a small embedded microprocessor system and relies heavily on schematic capture and technical diagram software. In addition, many students construct printed circuit boards with their senior project and other projects. To address such needs at my University, I introduced two free software1 packages, KiCad2 and Dia3, to the curriculum, making the software available in our computer laboratories. Students also install this software on their home computers.
KiCad is software for the creation of electronic schematic diagrams and printed circuit board artwork. It is useful for everybody working in electronic design. In the microprocessor devices course I teach, due to the complexity of the circuits we build, it is practically impossible to draw schematics by hand. Such complexity is due to the detail required to actually construct such circuits. Even in a modest microprocessor system with an 8-bit data bus and a 16-bit address bus, keeping track of pins and pin numbers is problematic. In performing homework and project work alike, students absolutely require a powerful yet easy-to-use schematic capture tool.
Dia is software for the creation of technical diagrams. Unlike schematics that are detail-oriented, technical diagrams such as block diagrams are concept-oriented and play an important role in technical writing, helping to make a specific point or aspect of a system more understandable. Dia can be used to draw many different kinds of technical diagrams. It currently has special objects to help draw entity relationship diagrams, UML diagrams, flowcharts, network diagrams, and many other diagrams. While the interface and features are inspired by Visio, Dia is geared more for casual use.
As an educator I find that KiCad and Dia are useful and valuable to students. The point of free software1 is that its users are at the core of its development so that you can join the community and get involved. In considering any free software project, look to its community of users and examine the content they provide. A quick Internet search for KiCad and Dia is telling as there are tutorials, documentation, and utilities online. In a nutshell, KiCad and Dia are exceptionally good examples of free software, and both are valuable to computer engineering students.
Computer engineering students have very specific needs in regards to schematics and other technical diagrams. Schematics are drawings that serve a very specific need in electrical and computer engineering, to represent actual circuits that can be constructed. Such drawings are inherently comprehensive in their detail and emphasize the circuit structure. As with a street map, a schematic does not aid much in understanding the behavior of the actual circuit. A schematic may sacrifice interpretability and understandability for comprehensiveness in detail. To summarize, a given schematic may be overwhelming, but in many cases it allows you to build the circuit without knowing how or why it actually works.
Hill, J. (2010, June), Schematic Capture And Technical Drawing Software For Computer Engineering Paper presented at 2010 Annual Conference & Exposition, Louisville, Kentucky. https://peer.asee.org/16957
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