356 IEEE TRANSACTIONS ON EDUCATION, VOL. 54, NO. 3, AUGUST 2011

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Engineers to Meet Industry Demands

Lei Jing, Zixue Cheng

, Member, IEEE

, Junbo Wang, and Yinghui Zhou

Abstract—Embedded system technologies are undergoing dramatic change. Competent embedded system engineers are be-coming a scarce resource in the industry. Given this, universities should revise their specialist education to meet industry demands. In this paper, a spirally tight-coupled step-by-step educational method, based on an analysis of industry requirements, is pro-posed. The learning process consists of multiple learning circles piled up in a spiral. Each learning circle consists of three steps: lecture, demo, and hands-on practice, which are tight-coupled to enable students to readily revisit essential knowledge. The circle currently being studied is directly based on the previous circle, so as to maintain a smooth learning curve. Since students can quickly see the result of their work, their motivation to learn remains high. Since a learning circle takes only a short period to complete, the core knowledge and skills can be repeated in different forms across the three types of educational step so that students can master them. The students’ achievement and performance using the proposed method show that it can enable them to master the requisite knowledge and effectively transform this into skills.

Index Terms—Embedded systems, engineering education, project-based learning (PBL), step-by-step learning, univer-sity–industry cooperative education.

I. INTRODUCTION

T

HE main characteristics of today’s embedded systems are function integration and a rapid development cycle. For resource optimization and the cost control, most large-scale embedded systems are developed through multinational cooperation.

With globalization, the demand for embedded system engi-neers (SEs) in Japan is shifting from quantity to quality. Al-though there is still a huge demand for embedded system engi-neers in industry, this demand is decreasing year by year. For example, according to a survey report of the Japanese Ministry

Manuscript received January 04, 2010; revised April 19, 2010; accepted May 23, 2010. Date of publication August 03, 2010; date of current version August 03, 2011. This work was supported in part by the METI and MEXT through the Asia-Jinzai Project, a career development program for foreign students in Japan. L. Jing and Z. Cheng are with the School of Computer Science and En-gineering, University of Aizu, Aizu-Wakamatsu 965-8580, Japan (e-mail: leijing@u-aizu.ac.jp; z-cheng@u-aizu.ac.jp).

J. Wang is with the Graduate School of Computer Science and Engineering, University of Aizu, Aizu-Wakamatsu 965-8580, Japan (e-mail: d8101202@ u-aizu.ac.jp).

Y. Zhou is with the School of Electrical Engineering, Yanshan University, Qinhuangdao 066004, China (e-mail: shueikei@gmail.com).

Color versions of one or more of the figures in this paper are available online at http://ieeexplore.ieee.org.

Digital Object Identifier 10.1109/TE.2010.2058576

of Economy, Trade and Industry, the demand decreased by about 30% over three years, from 99 000 in 2007 to 69 000 in 2009 [1]. Therefore, the question of how to improve thequalityrather than thequantity of IT employees has become the most important factor. According to the 2009 questionnaire of the IT Human Resources White book, 32.4% of companies feel that their num-bers of high-quality human resources are extremely inadequate. Moreover, 75% of companies put the highest priority on how to retain these high-quality employees [2].

Higher education should satisfy this demand for high-quality engineers. In this paper, industry demands for university edu-cation, as expressed in a series of discussions, are clarified in Section II. Related works are discussed in Section III. Then, to meet the multidisciplinary features of the embedded systems field and to meet industry demand, a spirally tight-coupled step-by-step educational method is proposed in Section IV. The design of a fundamental course on embedded systems is presented in Section V to illustrate the use of the proposed method. The hands-on practice of the course is introduced in Section VI. Evaluation and discussion of the method are given in Section VII. Finally, conclusions are given in Section VIII.

II. INDUSTRYDEMAND TOHIGH-QUALITYENGINEERS

In this section, educational goals are presented based on an analysis of industry requirements for embedded system engineers.

A. Roles of University and Industry

In industry, it is not cost-effective to design systematic training programs for employees. Traditional on-job training (OJT) is therefore still the normal way for employees to learn the necessary skills. However, with the trend for large-scale systems and complex division of labor, employees are only able to learn specific domain skills and have little chance to get a “a big picture” of the whole embedded system field and the whole development process. Moreover, in most universities, courses on embedded systems are rarely based on industry demands, leading to duplication of training between university and industry.

To solve the above problems, universities should design the courses according to industry demands, and the educational re-sults should be evaluated by industry. In the case of this paper, some specialists from the embedded system industry were in-vited to form a committee. The committee gave advice on course design through periodic meetings with faculty and students. The

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Fig. 1. Skills set for embedded system development.

Fig. 2. Architecture of the technology elements.

evaluation was obtained, in the form of interviews and reports, from companies providing internships.

B. Technology, Knowledge, and Skill

For the purposes of this paper, technology, knowledge, and skill are defined as follows. Technology is the process used to meet a requirement. Mature technologies are documented as knowledge that is deterministic and can be conveyed to others. Skill is the ability of specific human beings to use relevant knowledge and tools to accomplish the process. To master a technology, both knowledge and skill are indispensable.

Knowledge can be taught in lectures, but skill has to be learned through practice. An important evaluation standard for an educational methodology is whether it can effectively transform knowledge into skill.

C. Knowledge and Skills Required by Industry

The knowledge and skills for embedded system development can be divided into three categories: technology elements, development and management skills, and personal ability, as shown in Fig. 1.

1) Technology Elements: Technology elements are the tech-nologies needed to realize specific mechanisms in embedded systems [3]. The technology elements on the branches of the knowledge tree are domain specific; see Fig. 2. However, uni-versity education should emphasize the essential elements on the trunk to facilitate their future development.

2) Development and Management Skills: Development skills are skills used in the system development process, such as pro-gramming, system design, debugging, and test. Management skills are skills to make the project progress smoothly, such as time management, cost management, and risk management. Practical experience of development and management skills are

Fig. 3. Mapping relation between the objectives of university education and the requirements of competent SEs.

important for all engineers. Even if they cannot master all the necessary skills for each step, experiencing development and management skills can give a big picture of embedded systems, which nowadays is difficult for field engineers to get. Moreover, the experience of the whole process gives students a chance to discover the work that really interests them and to clarify their career direction. Furthermore, the big picture can function as a road map for their further learning activities.

3) Personal Ability: Personal ability depends on individual personality, which needs a long time to be cultivated. Interper-sonal skills are crucial for project success, and thus indispens-able qualities for a competent engineer.

D. Educational Requirements for Universities

University education should satisfy industry demands. 1) Requirements for Competent System Engineers: As a con-clusion of the previous discussion, competent embedded SEs should have interdisciplinary talents, with extensive knowledge of the specific subject domain and of other related domains, high skills on the specific tools and platforms, and high personal ability, as shown at the bottom of Fig. 3. They should not only be specialists in one or more specific domains to solve specific problems, but should also have general knowledge of related do-mains, the whole embedded system architecture, and the whole development process so that they can cooperate with other team members.

2) Objectives of University Education: These objectives should be accomplishable through a series of educational ac-tivities. Moreover, university education should set the stage for the future success as competent embedded system engineers. In this paper, the specific objectives are to have students master the essential knowledge, get the big picture of embedded systems, and receive basic training for personal ability, as shown at the top of Fig. 3. This knowledge and these skills can set the stage for students to meet the requirements for being competent engineers through OJT once they join companies.

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III. RELATEDWORK

Lecture-centered educational methodologies are one of the effective ways for knowledge learning [4], but they do not help students transform their knowledge into skills.

Combined lecture-laboratory methodologies have been adopted in some curriculum designs for skills training [5]–[7]. Laboratory work can consolidate the learned knowledge and transform some of this into skills through practice, but the limited time span of a laboratory means that students cannot practice in depth.

Given the multidisciplinary nature of embedded systems, practical-orientated student-centered active learning methods like project-based learning (PBL) [8], [9] and problem-based learning [10] have been discussed in the design of embedded system courses. In such methods, the students are the center of the educational activity, and instructors act as a supplementary function. The students have enough time to experience the whole process of embedded system development and improve their personal ability through cooperative work. However, there is a limitation in PBL. First, students have difficulty starting their project in spite of having the necessary knowledge and skills. Second, PBL alone will not enable novices to equip themselves rapidly with fundamental knowledge and skills. Third, students cannot perform an in-depth study if they do not have the necessary knowledge.

To combat these deficiencies of PBL, other educational activi-ties, such as lectures and lab work, have been combined into cur-riculum design [11], [12]. However, new problems arise. First is a contents mismatch between different educational activities. Generally, inadequate timely communication between instruc-tors means that different instrucinstruc-tors decide upon the contents of the different educational activities, which will hinder the trans-formation of knowledge to skills. Second is the timing mismatch between different educational activities. Timely review is an im-portant cognitive principle of learning, but it is difficult to ar-range activities to let students revisit the knowledge in a timely fashion; arranging a lab class immediately after lectures is not always possible. Third, and most critical, is the gap between the difficulty levels of different educational activities. Gaps between difficulty levels exist between the lecture and lab [11], the lab and project [12], [13], and so on. How to bridge these gaps to avoid steep learning curves is the core problem in the design of an embedded systems course.

In [14], a spiral curriculum for chemical engineering edu-cation is evaluated. Fundamental courses introduce chemical science knowledge to freshmen. Sophomores then revisit the knowledge with a series of projects. A comparison between the spiral method and traditional method was performed. Spi-rally taught students showed a much more positive attitude to-ward chemical engineering and teamwork than did the tradition-ally taught students. A hint is given from this research that the learning effect may be improved by shortening the spiral cycle,

Fig. 4. Step-by-step educational method.

so that the students can quickly consolidate their learned knowl-edge and skills.

Based on these discussions, a spirally tight-coupled step-by-step educational method is proposed in this paper, which inte-grates several educational activities into one course to tightly couple the learning of knowledge and skills in terms of contents, timing, and difficulty. Through various activities, including lec-ture, demo, lab, and project, the cognitive requirements are in-creased gradually so that students can complete the learning process smoothly. In particular, the demos are integrated into the course so as to bridge the gap between the lecture and lab. Each demo can give the students a timely review of the con-cepts. Moreover, all of the architecture and components of the experimental platform used in the lab are introduced to the stu-dents through a series of demos. The details of this method are introduced in the following sections.

IV. SPIRALSTEP-BY-STEPMETHOD

To meet the educational objective, a comprehensive ed-ucational method called the spiral step-by-step method is proposed, “step-by-step” being the way to learn the knowledge, and “spiral” being the way to arrange the knowledge. These two key concepts are described here.

A. Step-by-Step

Each step consists of one kind of educational activity, such as a lecture, demo, or lab. Step-by-step means that these activities are arranged according to cognitive theory gradually to deepen the understanding of core knowledge.

According to cognitive theory, the understanding levels of a given subject can be divided into three categories: “I know”; “I can do”; “I adopted and adapted” [4]. Generally, the first and second levels can be accomplished in a relatively short period. The third level requires repeated practice over a relatively long period. Thus, to reach the second level is a more reasonable goal for formal or school learning. To reach the second level, multiple educational activities are combined according to the human cognitive principle, Fig. 4, to allow students to experi-ence the knowledge or skills from different aspects through dif-ferent activities.

In this paper, to allow students to master the core knowl-edge, the curriculum was designed to enable them to revisit the material in a timely fashion, through tight coupling of the dif-ferent types of educational activities according to the cognitive process. For example, to learn the concept of interruption, the step-by-step learning process is arranged as follows. The goal

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Fig. 5. Spiral step-by-step educational model.

of the lecture is to let the students know what an interruption is. The teacher can start from an example in the real life, such as having to answer a telephone while reading a book. This gives students an image of the concept. Then a definition is given to tell the students what an interruption is in the case of embedded systems. Then a demo (such as an interruption happening when pushing a button to flash an LED) is shown to the students. Stu-dents can control the button and read the source code to deepen their understanding. At this stage, the students have the nec-essary knowledge, but not enough skill to put this interruption knowledge into practice. So before they do the project, the nec-essary skills are introduced in the lab classes. Then the students can work together to accomplish the assigned projects, during which they have to make the best use of the interruption mech-anism to solve various problems. At the end of such a learning circle, the students will reach the “can do” level having revis-iting the material in different forms (lecture, demo, lab, and project) over a short period.

B. Spiral Step-by-Step

Spiral step-by-step means that the different types of knowl-edge are grouped into several stages and taught sequentially so that the students can concentrate on one type of knowledge at a time to reduce the cognitive load. Once the sequence is deter-mined, multiple ascending circles (stages) are linked to form a spiral; see Fig. 5.

For any given knowledge, the students can reach the second understanding level through the step-by-step learning process, following an ascending learning circle, Fig. 4, which starts from the lecture and ends at the project. They will then feel prepared and confident to step up to the next circle.

The learning contents of the next circle (stage) should be based on the contents of the current circle (stage). Students can be viewed as goal-directed agents who actively seek informa-tion. When they begin a learning process, a range of prior knowl-edge, skills, and concepts will significantly influence the ways they organize and interpret the new knowledge [15]. All of these will affect their abilities to remember, reason, solve problems, and acquire new knowledge. Thus, an important principle in ar-ranging the knowledge is that the prerequisite knowledge should be taught first.

Generally, the sequence is determined not only by the depen-dence relationships among the educational contents, but also by the students’ background knowledge.

V. FPES COURSEDESIGN—A CASESTUDY

The method introduced was put into practice in the IT Nisshinkan program, which is a subprogram of the Asia-Jinzai Project supported by the Japanese Government. The purpose of the program is to cultivate high-quality international embedded system engineers. In this section, one of the courses for the program, FPES #963 (Fundamental and Practice of the Em-bedded Systems), which was designed based on the proposed educational method, will be introduced as a case study. A. Learning Contents

The demands of industry and students were taken as the guidelines in choosing the learning contents. As shown in Fig. 3, the essential knowledge, the big picture of embedded systems, and personal ability for embedded system develop-ment were selected as the core of the course. Therefore, all the educational activities relate to them.

Interrupt, timer, and general-purpose input output (GPIO) are selected as essential knowledge elements because they are key concepts in understanding the interaction between hardware and software; they are prerequisites for understanding the other tech-nical elements like universal asynchronous receiver transmitter (UART), Watchdog, and wireless; and because almost all em-bedded applications are either time-driven or event-driven or both.

To form a big picture of embedded systems, students should be given the chance to experience the whole process of em-bedded system development including both hardware and software.

According to industry demands, as well as providing knowl-edge and skills, the course integrates competency training in-cluding problem solving, self-learning, and communication. B. Syllabus

The syllabus is designed to include all of the learning contents and to be accomplished within 16 sessions (1.5 h/session). Two sessions are given in each week of the eight-week course, which can be finished in one school quarter. It is also suitable for short-term training in many companies.

As shown in Table I, important concepts, like GPIO, Timer, Interrupt, and FSM (finite state machine), are distributed be-tween different lectures, so that in each session students can concentrate on just one or two important concepts.

Moreover, to help students review and practice the knowledge they have learned, the course is divided into three parts: Lecture, Demo, and Practice (lab and project).

The Lecture focuses on having students “know.” The basic concepts, including hardware, software, and model-based de-velopment, are explained by the teachers.

The Demo focuses on having students “see.” After each lec-ture, a demo is given to help the students deepen their under-standing of the just-learned knowledge.

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The Practice focuses on having students “do.” It can be fur-ther divided into two parts: practiceinclass and practiceafter class. The “in class” part consists of two lab classes, one discus-sion forum, two student presentations, and two invited lectures. The “after class” part consists of two projects: CUTEBOX hard-ware development and embedded softhard-ware development. The students can experience embedded system development directly through the lab classes and projects; they also acquire indirect experience from the guest lecturers invited from the front line of embedded system development. Moreover, they can practice and improve their self-learning, problem solving, and commu-nication skills through the investigation and discussion forums. C. Experimental Platform

The course is based on an original experimental platform named CUTEBOX. The hardware design and sample code can be found and freely downloaded from http://cutebox. wikispaces.com/.

D. Demo Design

Eight demos were designed for the FPES. Each demo is given at the end of the respective lecture for about 10 20 min. The purpose of the demos is to let the students revisit the newly learned important concepts in a more concrete way to improve their comprehension.

Each demo is designed to show the use or mechanism of the essential knowledge element. For example, a demo was given of the GPIO working mechanism taught in the lecture. At first, the demo of LED controlled by a switch was shown using the CUTEBOX. Then, there were quizzes on how to use the CPU’s GPIO to control the LED, and so on, to stimulate the students

to think about the inside working mechanism. Furthermore, the illustration of the working mechanism was presented by an animation as shown in Fig. 6. The students could understand the difference between the input mode and output mode. Finally, the source code for setting GPIO was shown to the students. The LED demo and animation were intuitively understood. Moreover, through the demo, the abstract GPIO mechanism was connected with the CUTEBOX system with which the students are familiar. When doing their hands-on practice using the CUTEBOX, the GPIO would be brought back to their minds, which further improved their understanding.

Additionally, most of the demos were interconnected. As shown in Table I, all but the sixth and seventh of the eight demos are based on the CUTEBOX. In the first demo, Fig. 7, as an example of the embedded system, the architecture and components of the CUTEBOX were introduced. In the second, third, fourth, and fifth demos, the different components were introduced. In the eighth demo, the applications developed by the students were presented. Through the interconnected demos, the students formed a big picture of embedded sys-tems. Moreover, the mapping relations between the essential knowledge and the components of CUTEBOX are strengthened through the demos. The ensuing hands-on practice can help students to connect their experience with the concepts they have learned; this deepens their understanding and avoids superficial learning.

VI. HANDS-ONPRACTICE

The practical items and required time are listed in Table II. This art consists of two lab classes and two projects, which are closely interconnected. The technical knowledge is taught in the

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Fig. 6. GPIO demo through the button control on LED.

Fig. 7. First demo using CUTEBOX. TABLE II

HANDS-ONPARTPLAN ANDNECESSARYTIME

lecture, and technical skills are taught in the lab classes. Then, with the help of the teaching assistant (TA), the students practice these skills during the project development.

Fig. 8. Making the PCB.

The total time taken is about 22–38 h, of which hardware development and software development take 30% and 70%, respectively. The two lab classes take the in-class time. The projects are assigned as homework.

A. Lab Class 1: Hardware Development

The lab class is used to learn the necessary skills to accom-plish the hardware development project.

A lightweight printed circuit board (PCB)-making method, based on positive photoresist fiberglass, was adopted for the hands-on practice for the following three reasons. First, it is affordable for most educational budgets. A complete set of the necessary experimental devices costs less than US $1000 in Japan. A set of experimental expendables for one group costs no more than $20. Second, the operation of these de-vices is straightforward, so the students can concentrate on understanding of the whole process and underlying theory. Third, even though lightweight, this technique covers the main process steps of PCB making, such as artwork generation, exposure, developing, etching, and so on. Based on the lab class experience, the students were able to understand the main manufacturing process when they visited a cell phone factory of the Fujitsu group.

The students were given the chance to experience a whole hardware development process, learning the technique skills in the lab classes and practicing them in the project development. Then, after class, each student was required to develop a piece of PCB under the instruction of the TA; see Fig. 8.

B. Project 1: CUTEBOX Hardware Development

The students practice the knowledge and skills they learned in the hardware learning circle through creating the hardware of CUTEBOX. All of the students experienced the PCB-making process by making the CUTEBOX, and successfully ran a test program on their own board.

Through working on the hardware debugging according to the circuit diagram, they mastered basic testing methods using multimeters and oscilloscopes, such as how to check for short and open circuits.

The students met various kinds of failures before finally suc-ceeding. Failure is a good way to learn. For example, a student failed three times on the etching step. Each time, the TA would explain the technical points on the artwork generation, exposure,

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developing, and etching. Although the student spent longer on these steps, he had mastered the process and the background theories more thoroughly than the other students.

C. Lab Class 2: Software Development

The second lab class lets students learn the necessary skills to accomplish the software development project. In the class, they experienced the development process for an embedded system through the development of a flashing LED program, using the CUTEBOX as mentioned in Demo 3. During this, the students were trained to use the specific tool chain for CUTEBOX soft-ware development.

Then, a sample project was used to show how to do basic project management and how to control some more complicated devices, like GLCD, sensors, and UART, through the existing hardware abstraction layer (HAL).

D. Project 2: Embedded System Application Development In order to understand the essential knowledge, the relation-ship between the software and hardware, the control of the ded-icated devices, and the restrictions on resources and time, the students had to complete an embedded system based on the CUTEBOX through teamwork.

The project goal is determined based on two elements. First, the project should be interesting and challenging for the stu-dents so that they actively take part in the project development. Second, it should be reasonable and feasible. The learned es-sential knowledge could be put into practice in the project, and the work load should be such that the beginners could finish in about 20 h.

The students were divided into several groups, with members being drawn from different countries, so that they could experi-ence an environment of international team-based development. They had to select a project subject by discussion among themselves and with the help of the supervising teacher. Across the academic years 2008 and 2009 (AY2008 and AY2009),

eight projects were proposed and carried out by the students as shown in Table III. The details of these projects can be found at http://cutebox.wikispaces.com/.

Once each group understood what they were supposed to do, they had to draw up a development schedule. To help the teacher to follow the progress of each group, a group leader was as-signed to take the responsibility of reporting progress to the teacher.

VII. EVALUATION ANDDISCUSSION

The FPES course was given in AY2008 and AY2009, respec-tively, to a total of 26 international students from five countries. According to a precourse questionnaire survey, most of them had no direct experience of embedded system development, but most of them were familiar with C language.

A comprehensive assessment was performed to evaluate the students’ performance in the two core educational objectives: for them to master essential knowledge and to have a big picture of embedded systems. The evaluation was carried out in two ways: a questionnaire-based evaluation to reflect the students’ feedback on the validity of the educational methodology, and a quantitative evaluation of the final paper examination to assess the method’s effectiveness for learning the essential knowledge and the big picture of embedded systems.

A. Questionnaire and Interview

A survey of the students’ response was performed at the end of the course. Twenty-four questionnaires were completed (2 out of 26 students did not fill out the questionnaire). The survey includes two parts: a questionnaire answered by the students to evaluate the validity of the educational methodology, and an interview between the teacher and each student to understand the students’ opinions directly by face-to-face communication.

The questions and the corresponding survey results are shown in Table IV. The students were asked to mark the questions on a 5-point scale, namely: 5—A (Agree), 4—PA (Partially agree), 3—(N) Neutral, 2—PD (Partially Disagree), 1—D (Disagree).

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TABLE IV

SUMMARY OFSURVEYDATA ON THEVALIDITY OF THECOURSEDESIGN

According to the survey, 71% of students agree and 29% of students partially agree that the learning process is effective (Q1).

About 92% of the students had a positive attitude toward the demos as a straightforward way of concept understanding (Q2). In the interview, one student suggested that, as an alternative, it might be better to inset multiple demos in one lecture. Other students said that the time allowed for the demonstration was a bit short, and they would have preferred a longer time to operate the demos by themselves.

About 88% of the students thought that the skills learned in the lab class are necessary for project development (Q3). In the interview, several students said that the contents of lab classes were necessary, but not enough. They thought that the time for lab classes should be increased so that they could learn more technologies so as to allow them to develop more interesting projects.

The students showed strong interest in the projects, especially the hardware development part. Most of them thought that the hardware skills are important, and that the hardware knowledge makes software development more interesting for them. Most students felt that the level of difficulty of the projects was appro-priate for them, this being their first embedded system project. However, some students also pointed out that they were not able to grasp the purpose of each and every development step while they were busy doing the concrete development, which indicates that it is important to make sure every team member takes part in the project design process.

About 83% of students agree or partially agree that the project teamwork was effective, while about 17% disagreed (Q4). Most of the students had realized the importance of first planning their work and then carrying out the plan. It was further found to be important to make sure that the students can understand what they are doing if they are to cooperate effectively.

Most students (about 96% agree or partially agree) would like to introduce others to this way of learning, which indicates that they think the course is useful (Q5). In terms of motivation, about 88% of the students feel somewhat confident to tackle em-bedded system development projects in their future work (Q6). From this discussion, the overall response of the students was overwhelmingly positive toward the FPES course, which was confirmed in the interviews as well. The experience of having given the FPES course has demonstrated the feasibility of the step-by-step method.

B. Effectiveness of Knowledge and Skills Learning

To evaluate the educational effect, a written 2-h final exami-nation was taken at the end of the FPES course in AY2009. All of the 17 students enrolled took this examination. The maximum score was 100, consisting of true–false questions (20%), single-answer questions (20%), calculation questions (20%), and de-scriptive questions (40%).

Here, a quantitative analysis of the data from the written final examination is performed to evaluate the effectiveness of the spiral step-by-step educational method. The knowledge units in the examination are divided into two categories, as shown in Table V. The first of these categories is the knowledge learned through the whole step-by-step learning circle, which is taken as representing the proposed educational method; the other is the knowledge learned through a single part of learning circle, which is taken as typical of the conventional method of education. The two categories are represented by two sets of knowledge units, called KU1 and KU2, respectively. Although KU2 has fewer educational activities in the class, the students were expected to review this knowledge as homework. The two knowledge sets are given almost the same time in the lectures and similar difficulty level in the examination, are learned by the same group of students, and are taught by the same instruc-tors; the only variable is the educational method. An assessment could thus be made of the impact of the proposed educational method through the comparative study of the proposed and the conventional method.

The two categories are shown in Table V. The upper half of the table shows the KU1 knowledge units, whereas the lower half of the table shows the KU2 knowledge units. The columns give a list of the knowledge units for each cate-gory, the corresponding educational activities (steps) for the units, the degree of comprehension for each knowledge unit (DCU), and the degree of average comprehension for each category.

For each knowledge unit in KU1 and KU2, the examination may consist of different numbers of questions, which might be of a single type or of several different types. Generally speaking, the students’ scores in the examination reflect their degree of comprehension of the knowledge. Therefore, the DCU is the

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weighted average of the degree of comprehension for the rele-vant questions in the exam, as shown by

number of questions per knowledge unit (1) where is a knowledge unit, is the number of questions for , is maximum score of question , and is the degree of comprehension for question derived from the students’ an-swers to question and equals the average score of all students’ scores divided by the maximum score of the question as

number of students (2) where is the number of students, and is the score of student on the question of knowledge unit .

Taking the knowledge unit “Interrupt” as an example, this unit has three questions with maximum scores of 2, 2, and 16, respectively, in the exam. The corresponding of the three questions is 70.59%, 100%, and 59.19%, respectively, with the of the third question (marked as Q3 in the exam) being calculated as

(3) Then the of the knowledge unit “Interrupt” is calcu-lated, giving a result of 64.41%

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By inspecting Table V, it can be seen that almost all the DCUs in KU1 are higher than those in KU2, and that the average degree of comprehension of KU1 (69.86%) is about 15% higher than that of KU2 (54.55%), which means that the spiral step-by-step learning circle results in an enhancement in comprehension of the learning contents over the conventional method. This can be attributed to the educational method allowing the students to revisit the knowledge in different forms over a short period of time. Instead of becoming bored by monotonous learning methods, students’ motivation remained high throughout the whole course as they made a complete embedded system on their own.

It could be questioned whether the results of a written ex-amination could reflect the effectiveness of skills learning. A straightforward way to evaluate the skills learning is to examine the project outcome. The project outcomes show that students can efficiently use the necessary skills. All groups completed the assigned projects on time.

Moreover, a further study was made on the relation of the stu-dents’ project performance and their written exam performance. The project score is the average score of two items: the random oral examination during the project development and the final project report.

The Pearson correlation coefficient between the examination score and the project score is 0.71, which is higher than the cor-relation coefficient for the specific degree of freedom

at the 99% confidence level. This shows that the two variables have correlation dependence, which indicates that the knowl-edge learning and skills learning are tightly coupled in the spiral step-by-step method.

From the above discussion, the written final examination re-flects students’ level of understanding of the knowledge, and the projects reflect their ability to master and apply this knowledge to solve real problems.

VIII. CONCLUSION

Embedded systems education at the university level should meet industry demands and reflect industry trends, which are

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seldom spelled out in the embedded-system educational field. This paper has presented the core qualities of competent em-bedded system engineers. A clear goal for university educa-tion was established according to the industry demands. A spi-rally tight-coupled step-by-step educational method was pro-posed to help students to master the fundamental knowledge and skills for embedded system development. A fundamental course in embedded systems was used to illustrate the applica-tion of the educaapplica-tional method, and its effectiveness was con-firmed through the course evaluation.

ACKNOWLEDGMENT

The authors are grateful to the students in the Asia-Jinzai program who persevered through the course in AY2008 and AY2009. Moreover, the authors would like to thank the anony-mous reviewers, whose constructive comments have helped them greatly to improve the quality of the paper.

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Lei Jingreceived the B.Eng. degree in electrical and mechanical engineering from Dalian University of Technology, Dalian, China, in 2000; the M.Eng. de-gree in computer science from Yanshan University, Qinhuangdao, China, in 2003; and the Ph.D. degree in computer science and engineering from the Uni-versity of Aizu, Aizu-Wakamatsu, Japan, in 2008.

From 2008 to 2009, he was an Assistant Professor with special duty in the Asia Career Development Program at the University of Aizu. Currently, he is a Special Researcher with the University of Aizu. His research interests include sensor networks, context-aware computing, wearable computing, and ubiqui-tous learning.

Zixue Cheng (M’95) received the B.Eng. degree from Northeast Heavy Machinery Institute, Qinhaungdao, China, in 1982, and the M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in engineering from Tohoku University, Sendai, Japan, in 1990 and 1993, respectively.

He was an Assistant Professor from 1993 to 1999, an Associate Professor from 1999 to 2002, and has been a Full Professor since 2002 with the Univer-sity of Aizu, Aizu-Wakamatsu, Japan. His current interests include distributed algorithms, distance education, ubiquitous learning, context-aware service plat-forms, and functional safety for embedded systems.

Junbo Wangreceived the B.S. degree in electrical engineering and automation and the M.S. degree in electric circuits and systems from Yanshan University, Qinhuangdao, China, in 2004 and 2007, respectively. He is now pursuing the Ph.D. degree at the Graduate School of Computer Science and Engineering, University of Aizu, Aizu-Wakamatsu, Japan. His interests include ubiquitous context-aware platforms, ubiquitous learning, and sensor networks.

Yinghui Zhoureceived the B.E. degree in computer science and engineering from Jiamusi University, Jiamusi, China, in 2001, and the M.E. degree in com-puter science and engineering from Yanshan University, Qinhuangdao, China, in 2004. She is currently pursuing the Ph.D. degree in precision instruments and machinery at the School of Electrical Engineering, Yanshan University. Her re-search is concerned with pattern recognition and e-learning.

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