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Teaching Microcontroller Applications Using Laptop Computers

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2009 Annual Conference & Exposition


Austin, Texas

Publication Date

June 14, 2009

Start Date

June 14, 2009

End Date

June 17, 2009



Conference Session

Innovation in Laboratory Studies and Outreach Programs

Tagged Division

Division Experimentation & Lab-Oriented Studies

Page Count


Page Numbers

14.1145.1 - 14.1145.8



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Paper Authors


John Gumaer Central Washington University

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John A. Gumaer is an associate professor of Electronics Engineering Technology at Central Washington University. He was also an assistant professor of Engineering Technology at Northern Michigan University. Before joining academia, he worked for more than ten years in hardware and software engineering and development. He earned a MSEE from the University of Texas at Austin and is a registered professional engineer.

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

Teaching Microcontroller Applications Using Laptop Computers Abstract

This paper presents an inexpensive technique of teaching an introductory microcontroller applications course to technology students in a laptop-based curriculum. The focus of the course is learning to apply microcontrollers in various control applications. Related topics covered in the course include assembly language programming and computer architecture. Students in the course are each equipped with a laptop computer. The microcontroller platform used in this course is the Microchip PICKit1 development board. This development board features 8- and 14- pin microcontrollers with a 35 word instruction set. This is an ideal platform because the devices have enough resources to develop realistic applications but are not so complex as to be intimidating to the students. The PICKit1 board has a USB interface and several I/O devices. A minor modification permits this development board to be used as a microcontroller programmer. The students begin by getting familiar with the devices on the development board. Then, more complex off-board control applications are developed using the PICKit1 as a programmer. The students use their laptops to develop microcontroller software and program devices. Since the PICKit1 development board is less expensive than most textbooks, students purchase their own boards. The development software is available at no charge from the manufacturer. In combination with a laptop computer, this low cost approach is very flexible and allows students to perform experiments in class and across campus without being tied to a microcontroller laboratory.


An inexpensive technique of teaching microcontroller skills to technology students is presented in this paper. Typically microcontroller development courses are taught in a dedicated lab using development boards or systems linked to desktop computers running the appropriate development software. These development systems target a specific microcontroller family covered in the course. Limitations of this approach include the fixed number of workstation seats available, constraining students to a physical lab location, and limited lab availability.

In the 1999-2000 academic year Northern Michigan University began requiring all incoming freshmen to have laptop computers. To fulfill this requirement and enforce uniformity across the campus, students were provided machines by the university. The laptops were funded by a $300.00 USD fee charged each semester as part of tuition. All students were required to participate in this program. By the 2003-2004 academic year every student enrolled in the university had a laptop. The laptops in use were essentially identical in capabilities. They ran Microsoft Windows XP as the operating system and had a basic suite of applications installed on them by the university. One goal was to utilize these laptop computers to improve the student learning experience in a microcontroller applications course for technology students. A second goal was to improve the learning experience without significantly increasing the cost of course delivery and minimizing the per seat cost due to budget constraints.

Prior to 2004, the microcontroller applications course had been taught using the Microchip PIC family of 8-bit flash programmable microcontrollers. The lab consisted of desktop computers

Gumaer, J. (2009, June), Teaching Microcontroller Applications Using Laptop Computers Paper presented at 2009 Annual Conference & Exposition, Austin, Texas. 10.18260/1-2--5114

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