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A Portable Finite State Machine Module Experiment for In-class Use in a Lecture-based Course

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2012 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


San Antonio, Texas

Publication Date

June 10, 2012

Start Date

June 10, 2012

End Date

June 13, 2012



Conference Session

New Trends in ECE Education II

Tagged Division

Electrical and Computer

Page Count


Page Numbers

25.89.1 - 25.89.14

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Paper Authors


Bonnie H. Ferri Georgia Institute of Technology

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Bonnie Ferri earned the B.S. in electrical engineering from Notre Dame in 1981, the M.S. in mechanical and aerospace engineering from Princeton University in 1984, and the Ph.D. in electrical engineering from Georgia Tech in 1988. She is currently a professor and Associate Chair of Graduate Affairs in ECE at Georgia Tech.

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JillL L. Auerbach Georgia Institute of Technology

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A Portable Finite State Machine Module Experiment for In-Class Use in a Lecture-Based Course Laboratory experiments are a vital source for active learning in Engineering programs, yetlogistics often preclude them from being incorporated into lecture-based courses. Labexperiments are generally performed in lab courses in centralized locations. A new extension tothe laboratory experience is distributed laboratories, which consist of experiments that can beconducted in a variety of places such as a standard classroom or a dorm room. As such, they canbe incorporated into traditional courses or distributed from decentralized locations. Recently,there has been increasing interest in the development of some hands-on experimental platformsfor engineering students to do at home in the areas of controls, signal processing, circuits, anddigital logic. The National Instruments myDAQ device is one platform that is well suited forstudents to work on at home. This paper presents an experimental module for teaching finite state machine concepts. Thismodule is designed for use in a lecture-based course that does not currently have a lab associatedwith it. For this module, the students do pre-class preparation, including a pre-lab where theydesign the state machine circuitry. Then, in class, they build the design on a protoboard while attheir desks. The experimental platforms are low weight and powered by 3-AA batteries forportability. Unlike other platforms discussed in other papers, the experiment described in thispaper is designed for students to do at their desk in class during a standard lecture period. Achallenge discussed in this paper is the logistics, required so that this experiment can becompleted in a 50 minute class period in a regular classroom. The web support includes aninstructional video, a fundamental concepts tutorial, a virtual experiment, help for instructors, anda set of on-line quiz questions typical of standard lecture-based test questions. The general steps of finite state machine design and implementation are as follows:1) Convert a description of the problem into a state transition diagram2) Transfer the information from the state transition diagram to a state transition logic table3) Design a combinational circuit to implement the logic in the table.4) Select the chips to implement the combinational circuit and to implement the memory portion of the state machine5) Draw a pin diagram to illustrate how to wire the chips together to implement the state machine logic.6) Insert the chips into a protoboard and wire the ground, high voltage, enables, and clock pins.7) Complete the circuit by making the connections indicated from Step 5).8) Test the circuit.This module requires students to perform steps 2)-5) and 7)-8). Thus, the protoboard is partiallywired for the students in order to concentrate on the key state machine wired connections in thetime slot available. CMOS chips are used for low power, and a battery pack is used forportability.This module has been used in 11 classes and assessment for this experiment has included 471students. While most of the students have been at a large engineering school, one class at a smallengineering college used this experiment as well. The assessment included reviewingperformance assignments/tests on those questions that correspond to the material covered by theexperiment and conducting student surveys about their interest and understanding of the material.Survey data show that students in the experimental classes have a better understanding of thestate machine material than in the traditional lecture-only classes. For six classes (three pairs ofexperimental and control classes and each pair taught by the same instructor), higher percentagesof students in each of the control classes report that they did not understand the state machinematerial as well as other material in the class. These data are presented in the table. Each pairrefers to one control class (no portable lab) and one experimental class with a portable labcomponent. Each pair was taught by the same faculty instructor. One difference among theexperimental sections is completion of the pre-lab state machine homework assignments. For thespring 2008 students, only one student did not complete the homework and only one student of 39reported that there was inadequate in-class preparation for the lab. In fall 2008, 9 students out of24 did not complete the pre-lab assignment. These sections were taught by different instructorsshowing the dependence of the instructor on the outcome of the experimental methods. The fullpaper will describe the experiment in more detail and will show more assessment resultsincluding data from exams as well as describe best practices. Percentage of student reporting that their understanding of protoboards/breadboard was not as good as other topics in the course Control Experimental Pair #1 Spring semester 2008 82.8% 5.7% Pair #2 Fall semester 2008 74.3% 47.6% Pair #3 Fall semester 2009 66.7% 31.9%

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