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January 1999



Microprocessor Design Helps Hone Writing Skills

Microprocessor System Design has been designated a required course for all EE and CpE students graduating in May 1999 or later. This course has been a requirement for CpEs for many years, and is currently the Department's writing-intensive course.

The course is a lecture course with an integral laboratory course that examines the basic operation and use of microprocessors with particular emphasis on embedded control applications. The course uses the Motorola MC68HC11 microcon-troller in its labs.

Starting with the fall '99 semester, the course will be taught in the junior year; it is currently a senior-level course. The change is a result of the new curriculum that is being phased in.

"Under the new curriculum, all EE and CpE students will take the course because it covers one of the fundamental building blocks of electronics systems today," said Nat Davis, course supervisor. "We feel that students need this knowledge sooner than the senior year, so we have moved it to the junior year," he said.

Moving the course to the junior year involves some changes to the course content, including dropping the well known final "capstone" design project. "Students at the junior level often don't have enough background or experience to be successful with this type of project," Davis said. For CpE students the expectation to complete a capstone design project will be incorporated into an alternate senior-level digital design course.

The microprocessor system design course has been designated as a writing-intensive course as part of the University's "Writing Across the Curriculum" effort. "The writing-intensive designation is an attempt to emphasize the importance of good writing outside of a writing class," Davis said. "Today more than ever before, it is absolutely essential that engineers be capable writers. The University feels that a writing-intensive course in a major should help students to maintain and improve the writing skills they acquired in earlier English and technical writing courses."

The course was a natural for the writing intensive designation, according to Davis. "We already had all of the writing elements in place. In this course evaluations and grading are based heavily on lab reports, design reports, and demonstrations," he said. "The written assignments have always been evaluated not only on their technical content, but on the manner in which the information was presented. As part of the Writing Across the Curriculum requirements, students will now be expected to revise their written work to correct any writing errors that were noted during grading."

Davis and the other course instructors have been correcting writing in the lab reports for years. Last spring, when the writing-intensive component was required in the course, he noted that the design projects were the best-written reports he had seen in the course in the nine years that he had been teaching it.
"That means they listened! They got it!"

The Bradley Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering
Virginia Tech

Last Updated, May 9, 1999
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