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Engaging Sophomores in Embedded Design using Robotics

The material covered in a typical Computer Engineering class tends to be heavily focused on a single subject area. Students often struggle to see how different subjects are interrelated or how they can be combined to address a wider range of problems. They generally have to wait until after they have completed subsequent related courses before they are able to put the previously material in context. For example, the concepts students learn in a typical digital logic course usually make more sense when one is taking computer architecture.
A second issue is that students fail to grasp the richness and diversity of Computer Engineering until they have taken courses in hardware, software, networking and computer architecture. This may push students away from the field prematurely.
To address these issues, we have designed a new class targeted at sophomores that covers a broad slice of Computer Engineering. The class teaches students many of the fundamental concepts of Computer Engineering. The course is required for students pursuing degrees in Computer Engineering, Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at Northeastern University. It provides them with a hands-on experience and presents the basics of the Unix/Linux operating system, high level programming concepts, introductory digital design, computer organization and wireless networking. Students get the opportunity to directly apply the theory presented in the classroom as they build a working remote-controlled robotic arm.
The class is taught in an colaboratory, a integrated laboratory-classroom environment. The room facilitates teambased design, active learning and exploration, while allowing the instructor to move seamlessly between lecturing and hands-on laboratory experiences. By the end of the course, the students acquire a general understanding of the different areas in Computer Engineering. They leave more prepared and more excited to tackle the more specialized courses that they will take later in the curriculum. They are also better prepared for their first cooperative education experience, which many of them will do immediately after taking this class.

Appeared in:
Workshop on Computer Architecture Education
Presentation Place:
Portland, OR

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