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Using Hardware-based Programming Experiences to Enhance Student Learning in a Junior-Level Systems Modeling Course

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2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Indianapolis, Indiana

Publication Date

June 15, 2014

Start Date

June 15, 2014

End Date

June 18, 2014



Conference Session

Computer Hardware

Tagged Division

Computers in Education

Page Count


Page Numbers

24.1332.1 - 24.1332.17



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Paper Authors


Johné M. Parker University of Kentucky

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Johné M. Parker is an Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Kentucky. She received her BME, MSME and Ph.D. degrees from the George W. Woodruff School of Mechanical Engineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology and has six years industrial experience with Shell Oil Company and Mobil Chemical Company. Dr. Parker has received both federal and industrially-sponsored funding, including an NSF CAREER award in 2000; her research interests include systems and controls, manufacturing and machine vision. She is also very interested, and actively engaged, in engineering education research, particularly as it relates to hybrid learning and the use of computers in education.

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Stephen L. Canfield Tennessee Technological University

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Dr. Stephen Canfield is a professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at Tennessee Technological University. He received his Ph.D. in mechanical engineering at Virginia Tech in the field of parallel architecture robotics. His research interests include robot kinematics and dynamics, topological optimization of compliant manipulators, in-space mechanisms and engineering education.

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Sheikh Khaled Ghafoor

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Using Hardware-based Programming Experiences to Enhance Student Learning in a Junior-level Systems Modeling Course  This paper describes hands-on activity enhancements in the re-design of a junior-level MechanicalEngineering Systems Modeling lecture course. The primary focus of this paper is the students’ ability toconstruct, understand and analyze linear time-invariant models for physical systems. This study buildsupon a model which uses hardware to integrate programming experiences throughout the curriculum; inthe model, the three learning principles deemed critical for success are student engagement, knowledgetransfer and self-directed learning. In traditional Systems Modeling lecture courses, core course conceptsare generally considered to be a bit abstract to a considerable percentage of students and there are oftendisconnects between theoretical course concepts, computational solution techniques and the behavior ofreal-world systems. Each of these challenges inhibit the three principles deemed critical for success and itis posited in this paper that the introduction of programming involving hardware will enhance the threeprinciples, resolve disconnects and improve overall student learning. The re-design introduces programming experiences performed on microcontroller hardwareintegrated with analytical techniques discussed during lectures to illustrate key topics and solutionmethods (e.g., experimental determination of a system transfer function). The instructor had previouslytaught the course numerous times, so a well-paced course schedule and solid foundation of course notesare already in place. Additionally, hybrid and problem-based learning (PBL) techniques wereincorporated to enhance student engagement and allow both the sufficient time to introduce programmingmodules and the ability of the instructor/research assistant (RA)/teaching assistant (TA) team to givenecessary assistance and feedback during the programming experiences. A hands-on programming toolkit has been developed by [xx]* for direct programming ofmicrocontroller units (MCUs) using MatLab as the programming environment. Using this toolkit, MCUsare used to teach initial programming skills to engineering students in a context that matches their notionsof engineering. In the Systems Modeling course, the model is used to enhance programming skills in in acontext that enhances students’ understanding of a somewhat abstract area of MechanicalEngineering. The overall goal is for students to be able to verify the analytical modeling and solution onreal-world hardware, without being hampered by significant obstacles or requirements forimplementation. The Matlab-to-MCU toolbox effectively addresses this challenge, allowing students toverify system models using Matlab, a language they concurrently use to simulate system response,“directly” on microcontrollers with little additional overhead requirements. In particular, curricular linkage “labs” developed for the Course are implemented using the MatLab-to-MCU toolbox via a Motorola processor implemented on a Dragon12 evaluation board. An evaluationof the early implementation of these labs is discussed and compared to the traditional (lecture-based)format. The paper concludes with a discussion of the efficacy of this model in upper-level courses,suggestions for improvement and plans for future work.*[xx] – Specific reference to developers of toolkit removed for double‐blind review of abstract  

Parker, J. M., & Canfield, S. L., & Ghafoor, S. K. (2014, June), Using Hardware-based Programming Experiences to Enhance Student Learning in a Junior-Level Systems Modeling Course Paper presented at 2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Indianapolis, Indiana. 10.18260/1-2--23265

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