Like all offerings of Engineering 100, Microprocessors and Toys: An Introduction to Computing Systems is designed to attract both budding engineers and curious students from a variety of other disciplines. “The goal of the course,” Chen explains, “is to give students experience with the complete lifecycle of a substantial engineering project, and that includes looking at the market, proposing a design that fits that need, implementing the proposed design, and presenting the project.”
Since group work is an important part of engineering, students are divided into groups of four. Each group is given a printed DE2 circuit board (donated by Altera). The course is co-taught with a technical communications instructor who aids the students in documentation and helps them prepare for product presentations. Assisted by pertinent lectures and given plenty of lab time, students configure their boards using CAD software and eventually build a working synthesizer of their unique design. Former student John Dydo recalls, “working in the group turned out to be great. It’s an experience when you have to deal with people who have different styles. It’s important to let people focus on their strengths.”
The key to Chen’s success? “I just spend a lot of time hanging out with them in the lab because it’s fun to be with the students and see what they’re doing. They enjoy it—they like getting the help. It also gives me a chance to be on the ground level with them, and see how they’re working together.”
Junior Ben Kempke, who went on to serve as an Instructional Assistant in two subsequent semesters of ENG 100, testifies to Chen’s dedication to teaching: “Prof. Chen wanted to get a personal knowledge of every student in the class. He memorizes everybody’s names the first day.”
Students in the class come away with an overview of at least three EECS courses and a smattering of a fourth. Most importantly, the course builds confidence and encourages further study. As Chen puts it, a student having completed Microprocessors and Toys has learned enough to appreciate the study of computer engineering - both how complicated it can seem, and how understandable it can be.