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2010 2nd International Congress on Engineering Education, December 8-9, 2010, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Teaching Microprocessor Course:

Challenges and Initiatives
Hafzah Husain, Salina Abdul Samad & Aii Hussain
Department of Electrical, Electronics and Systems Engineering,
Faculty of Engineering and Built Environment,
Universiti Kebangasaan Malaysia
Abstac- Identifying the correct approach to teaching
microprocessors concepts to Malaysian students is
important so as to let them see how the concepts can be
applied in practice. This course basically teaches the
students on how to design microprocessor-based systems.
The students have to understand in detail about the
architecture of the microprocessor and learn how to write
comprehensive assembly language programs. Teaching and
learning the theory of programming is a challenging task
since it involves the abstract notions and logical thinking. In
addition, they have to have the detailed knowledge on the
hardware aspect of the processor. Unfortunately, most of
these students adopt a surface approach and tend to accept
information passively. They also tend to concentrate only on
what will be asked in the examinations and prefer to
memorize facts rather than refecting on the purpose and
analyzing the information. They need to adopt a deep
approach to learning and interact with the content critically
in order to integrate both the hardware and sofware
aspects in their design. This paper discusses the integrated,
practical, and student-centered approach for teaching this
important subject in the Department of Electrical,
Electronics and System Engineering, Universiti Kebangsaan
Malaysia (UM). Although the results shown are favorable,
continuous efort is needed to ensure students'
comprehension on the concept is well established and
Kewords Microprocessor course, integrated learning
Curently, te microprocessor is playing an increasingly
important role in a wide range of engineering
applications. Engineers fom all disciplines beneft fom
leaing te power of the microprocessor in solving
engineeing problems. The main objective of teaching te
croprocessor course is to allow the students to have a
torough practical knowledge of programming and
interfacing of te Intel family microprocessors (Brey
2009). They are expected to acquire design skills and
develop a microprocessor-based system tat can not only
solve engineering problems but also paying attention to
te manufactuing and economic factors tat infuence
te processor designs. In order to cultivate a
comprehensive approach to leaing te concept and
acquire te skills, te conventional approach of chalk and
talk limits te extent to which tese students can explore
in depth on te diferent design techniques of interfacing
and programming te microprocessor.
978-1-4244-7311-3/10/$26.00 2010 IEEE 215
Majority of Malaysian students are known to only
concentrate on getting good marks in their examinations.
Thus, they tend to memorize facts and rote leaig
without actually processing and integrating te facts into
a wider body of knowledge (Fung 2010). Tese students
who adopt a suface approach will not have a usefl base
for greater uderstanding of the content (Shale and
Trigwell 2004). Instead, tey should be encouraged to
interact with te content critically, relate ideas wit te
previous knowledge, gain deeper uderstanding of te
subject matter and explore all possibilities. O top of that,
tey should also be creative and able to addess te
manufactuing and economic factors in teir designs.
Various leaing strategies have been discussed in
may literatues especially in teaching microprocessors.
Amog which, self leaing, discovery leaig fexible
leaing ad cooperative leaing have been extensively
explored ad used. According to te following study
(Felde, 2003), te cooperative leaing metod has
successflly improves students' achievemets and at te
same time promotes teir generic growt in tes of
motivation to lea, positive dependecy, leadership,
decision making skill, racial tolerace, trust aong
studets and critical tinking ability. Skadon (2000)
discusses on using seminars to consolidate students'
knowledge and to expand tis knowledge beyond te level
of a advanced computer couse. Barve et al (2001)
claims tat physical and vitual laboratory is te most
important parameer and provide an efcient tool in
science ad technology education to promote self and
discovery leaing. Web-based leaing as proposed by
Mohandes e al (2002) was to provide an interactive,
convenient, ad self-paced, e-leaing tool for teaching
te fdaentals of te micoprocessor course.
A. Course Oerview
The course is of erred in te tird year of study and
introduces the various types of microprocessors( 4-bit to
16-bit) available in te market wit special emphasise on
Microprocessor 8086 by Intel. The students will be
exposed to te fdametal knowledge of the
microprocessor, inteal achitectue, progamming
model, fnctions and confguation of the pins. This will
be followed by the programming concepts, in which the
addessing modes and te instruction sets, machine and
assembly laguages and programming techniques will be
taught in detail. Tis course will also introduce te
students to memory addessing techniques and 1/0
devices. The students will also acquire te knowledge on
te operations and applications of serial and parallel
peripherals, PPI and USART. Finally, the architecture of
8086 and the migration fom 8-bit to 16-bit will be
exposed to the studets.
The fourteen week course focuses on the following
course outcomes:
I. Ability to identif the basic architectue
microprocessor and microcomputer systems and
the relations between hardware and sofware.
2. Ability to describe the fnctions and basic
concept of 8-bit and 16-bit microprocessors and
understand the hardware and sofware design
3. Ability to apply the instruction sets in
development of assembly language progam and
decoding of memory and VO devices in
interfacing circuits.
4. Ability to iterpret, analyze and troubleshoot
assemly language programs.
5. Ability to develop assembly language program
for specifc applications.
6. Ability to design and develop a complete
microprocessor-based microcomputer system to
solve engineering problems
The couse delivery and learing strategies include the
conventional approach of lectue and laboratory sessions.
In addition, the usage of virtual laboratory using open
access simulation and emulator tools is highly encouraged
via problem-based learing assignments and projects. To
motivate the weaker students and promote team work
skill, a cooperative learing strategy, namely the jigsaw
technique that is based on specifc procedue is
The various teachig and leaing strategies adopted i
this course; self and discovery learing through virtual
laboratory, motivational learing and working
cooperatively in a small goup to achieve common goals
and formative assessment to encourage self-monitoring of
one's achievement. All these strategies were extensively
explored so as to create the operational awareness and
design ability throug a detailed study of an actual
microprocessor system, rather than solely through a
description of abstract design procedures.
A. Physical and Virtual Laborator
The physical laboratory sessions in this course emphasize
on the use of trainer board that incorporate 16-bit 8086
and 8088 Intel microprocessor. The students acquire the
knowledge on interfacing and clocking control and able
to practice writing assembly language programming
techniques. It is important for students to come to grips
with a real (and complete) microcomputer system at this
level in order to meet the geeral learing objective of
mastering technical complexity. It allows students to see
and practice the application of basic ideas in circuits,
electronics, digital systems, and computer architecture.
The content of the laboratory exercises strive to provide a
balance between fndamental concepts and practical
implementation details on the target hardware.
The virtual laboratory flls the gap in the areas where
the physical or real laboratories have limitations,
primarily time and space constaints and the number of
equipments available. Most of the time, the students are
pressued to complete the laboratory work in a specifed
time but unable to do so due to untaceable faulty
equipments and components. Thus, they are compelled to
copy the results fom their fiends and nothig
worthwhile is achieved fom the exercise. Good students
are usually very inquisitive and would like to experiment
with diferent methods to solve problems posed in the
laboratory works.
To addess these problems, a simulator and emulator
that mimic the exact operation of the microprocessor is
introduced to the students. They will have unlimited time
to explore all the programming techniques available and at
the same time icreases the understanding on the
fnctions and operations of each instructions. This
learing method is not only contained to a privileged few,
but is also possible for majority of the students who own
personal computers and notebooks. Figue 1 shows the
emulator program that runs the simulation for stepper
motor operation in vitual laboratory.
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Figue 1 Virtual Laboratory
B. Cooperative Learing
In this course, jigsaw cooperative leaing method is used
to improve students' achievements and at the same time
promotes their generic growth in terms of motivation to
lear, positive dependency, leadership, decision making
skill, racial tolerance, trust among students and critical
thinking ability (Felder, 2003). In the beginnig of the
semester, the students are divided into groups of four.
The students can choose their own partners but need to
adhere to the conditions imposed: the academic
performance, gender and race have to be balanced.
According to Felder (2003), the cooperative learing
method emphasizes structued learing in small groups to
flfl 5 criteria, which are positive dependency,
responsibility, face to face inteaction, appropriate
utilisation of intepersonal skills and continual self
assessment towards group's interest. Tese criteria are
the fndamental elements in the planning and
management of cooperative learing method, which has
been identifed to affect students' learing process
InitialIy, the jigsaw structue adopted in this couse
includes the following strategy: every student in a jigsaw
group has their own individual strength and expetise.
Students wit te same area of expeise will get togeter
in an expert group and discuss a given related topic. These
students will te go back to teir respective jigsaw
groups to present te topic to all te group members. The
expert groups ae formed to assist te students in
mastering a particular topic or concept tat tey are
accounted to and hence device te best stategy to teach
and share te knowledge to te entire jigsaw group
members. Over time, tis approach is slightly modifed
due to feedbacks received fom te studets. Not all
students are capable to teach and share teir knowledge
and results in some topics not adequately uderstood by
te members. Now, each group member will work
cooperatively to complee assignments, problem-based
projects ad vitual laboratory exercises. To ensue tat
te goup meets regularly, tey would have to produce
minutes of meetings and submit together wit te given
C. Formative Assessment
In tis couse, the formative assessment approach is
adopted to gater inforation on te students' progress
trough fequent short quizzes and assignments and
highlights their weaknesses. When incorpoated into
classroom practice, it provides te information needed to
adjust teaching and leing while they are in progress. In
tis sense, formative assessmet approach infoms both
teachers and studets about student uderstanding at a
point when timely adjustments can be made (Black et al
2003). These adjustments help to esue students achieve
the targeted standards-based leig goals witin a set
time fame. Feedback given as part of formative
assessment helps tese students to be aware of any gaps
tat exist between tei desired goal and teir curent
knowledge, udestanding, or skill ad guides tem
trough actions necessary to obtain te goal. Usually, te
feedback on te students' achievement will be conveyed
to tem but they are also ecouaged to perform self
The efciency of te integated leing approach was
observed qualitatively and quantitatively based on te
entry-exit tests, results for te mid-semester examination
for te micoprocessor and micocomputer couse ofered
in semester 1 session 2009/2010 compared to te digital
design couse ofered in semester 2 session 2008/2009 and
comments given by the students. This comparison is made
because te same set of students was being observed and
te outcomes ad objectives of tese two courses ae
similar in nature. Using te jigsaw cooperative leaing
technique, te studets were divided ito 18 groups with
the citeria as previously described and te distribution as
shown in Table 1.
The students for te microprocessor couse were also
given short quizzes in te frst fou weeks and information
on teir performace was discussed individually. The
formative assessment approach adopted is to ensue te
students were forewaed of ay misconceptio o te
teories leed and for tem not to repeat te same
Table 1 Students' Distribution
Category Frequency Percentage
Gender Male 54 72.9%
Female 20 27.1%
Race Malay 40 54.0%
Chinese 32 43.0%
India 2 3.0%
CGPA 3. 00 -4. 00 42 56.7%
2.00 -2. 99 30 40. 5%
1. 00 -1. 99 2 2.7%
The virtual laboratory session begis in te frst week
where te students were briefed on te featues available
in the simulato provided on-line. They were ten given
simple assignments to be completed according to teir
cooperative group using the simulator. At te ed of te
semester, te studets were required to work on a
problem-based project in teir jigsaw groups. In tis
project, tey were asked to design a microprocessor-based
system tat can solve probles tey encouter in te
campus. They were required to perform simulations on the
hardware and the sofware desigs. The results of te
simulations were presented in te report and duing te
project presetation.
The students' comments ad analysis on te
effectiveness of te jigsaw cooperative leing method
are shown in Table 2.
Table 2 Analysis on Jigsaw Coopeative learning
Group is
Group is
No. of Commets
33 (92%) Able to contribute good
3 (8%)
design ideas in a group
Have deeper uderstanding
on the topics leaed
Develop team work skills
among mebers
Should be incorporated in
other couses
Lea to be responsible to
te oter group mebers
Teach clever studets not to
be selfsh
Ignites cuiosity and efort
on problem solving rate
than pue spoon feeding.
Some studets do not
contribute ideas in te
discussion and are too
depedent o oters
Altough te studets have the privileged to choose their
group members, te minutes of meeting revealed that
some students were still not contributing to the team's
effort. Consequently, te results of tese studets were
found to be unsatisfactory. Group members who
contribute signifcantly perform much better in teir tests
and examinations.
Entry and exit tests were given at the beginning and end
of the semester to evaluate the general uderstanding of
the microprocessor concepts. The same set of questions
was given to the students but adequate control procedures
have been taken to ensue validity. Te fndings indicate
that almost 85% and 9% of the studets show an increase
and a decline in their uderstanding on the concepts,
respectively and is shown in Table 3.
Table 3 Result of the students' performance in the
entry-exit test
No change
Number of Percentage
84. 8
6. 1
Comparison on the results for the mid-semester
examination for the microprocessor and microcomputer
course ofered in semester 1 session 2009/2010 and the
digital design couse ofered in semester 2 session
2008/2009 were made to observe the efectiveness of the
integated learig approach adopted in this study.
Figue 2 indicates the diference in the students'
performance between the microprocessor course and the
digital desig couse. About 60 or 81 % of the students
achieve higher marks in the microprocessor and
microcomputer couse compared to 14 or 19% who
achieve lower marks. O the other hand,
Figue 2 The students' performance in Microprocessor
course compared to Digital Design Couse
The integrated learing techniques have shown to
produce good results. Based on the observations made on
the students' learing behavior, they have remarkably
benefted studets in uderstanding the architectue,
programming and interfcing of microprocessors. The
students have shown to be developing explorative, multi
sensory approaches to solving problems that involve
analyzing, synthesizing, and evaluating the fdamental
concepts. The vitual laboratory that provides fexible
learing ehances their programming skills. I addition,
the cooperative learing procedue has also promotes
greater uderstanding and harmony between races and
enhance their team work skills. However, a contiuous
effort has to be taken, especially to devise a proper
procedue and well-structued activities to ensue the
students' commitment and efective learing takes place.
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