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An Inverted Approach to Introductory Digital Design

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2017 Pacific Southwest Section Meeting


Tempe, Arizona

Publication Date

April 20, 2017

Start Date

April 20, 2017

End Date

April 22, 2017

Conference Session

Technical Session 2c

Tagged Topic

Pacific Southwest Section

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bryan james mealy Cal Poly San Luis Obispo

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Bryan Mealy is an associate professor at Cal Poly State University in San Luis Obispo, California. Despite everything, he still finds the ultimate fulfillment in teaching.

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Digital design courses generally start by introducing basic circuit elements such as logic gates. These gates form the foundation of all standard digital circuit modules such as multiplexors, decoders, registers, etc. The notion of digital design involves assembling and connecting a set of these basic circuit modules in such a way that it solves a given problem. This low-level first approach to digital design can be tedious, which can subsequently burden students as they are developing the skills to design more complex circuits. This paper describes a qualitative approach to digital design where we introduce circuits by first describing them at a high level and in the context of actual design problems. This inverted approach delays the presentation of low-level details until after students understand the basic functioning of the standard digital modules in actual designs. We provide the associated low-level details after students have complete many high-level digital designs.

Our novel approach to basic digital design utilizes two rarely considered qualities of digital circuits. First, we can model complex digital circuits as a set of various standard digital modules interfaced with each other and controlled by another digital circuit. We support this model by using a new digital design paradigm that classifies digital modules according to their basic purpose in a circuit. Second, we can describe the basic functions of standard digital modules without requiring knowledge of basic digital logic principles such as logic gates and Boolean algebra. Our approach has the benefit of enabling students to design relatively complex circuits at the beginning of the course. Additionally, we remove some of the traditional, but less important digital design topics, which gives students more time to complete complex designs throughout the course. This new approach also underscores our current emphasis on modular-based digital design techniques.

This digital design course includes traditional topics such as binary mathematics, logic gates, standard digital modules, and finite state machine design. The laboratory associated with the course requires students to design and implement circuits on FPGA-based development boards, which subsequently requires that students learn to model digital circuits using a hardware description language (HDL).

mealy, B. J. (2017, April), An Inverted Approach to Introductory Digital Design Paper presented at 2017 Pacific Southwest Section Meeting, Tempe, Arizona.

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