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Design and Implementation of a Health-monitoring Design Project in an Introductory Digital Design Course

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2018 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Salt Lake City, Utah

Publication Date

June 23, 2018

Start Date

June 23, 2018

End Date

July 27, 2018

Conference Session

Electrical and Computer Division Technical Session 8

Tagged Division

Electrical and Computer

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Paper Authors


Matthew A. Watkins Lafayette College

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Matthew Watkins is an assistant professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Lafayette College. He received his Ph.D. and M.S. in Electrical and Computer Engineering from Cornell University and B.S. degrees in Computer Engineering and Electrical Engineering from the University at Buffalo. His research interests include engineering education and the design, use, and management of emerging computer architectures.

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Digital Design courses, which cover topics related to combinational and sequential logic, are a common element of most electrical and computer engineering programs. Introductory courses often employ only small “toy” examples that incorporate, at most, a few course topics in an example and fail to demonstrate the utility and power of modern digital systems. Additionally, at our institution, the Digital Design course is the first course that students take within the major, so there is an added interest to structure the course to motivate and retain a broad set of students.

With this in mind, we developed a design project that a) had a meaningful purpose, b) utilizes and integrates many of the topics from the course, and c) is likely to be of interest to a broad array of students. The project is an integrated Health Monitor. The Health Monitor determines and displays a user’s pulse and measures a user’s reaction time (the latter of which can be useful for diagnosing diseases like Parkinson’s disease). An implementation that meets all of the specifications will incorporate topics including combinational logic, common combinational building blocks, finite state machines, counters, adders, shift registers, and hierarchical design.

On the first day of the course, students are shown a functioning Health Monitor and as a class brainstorm a list of the capabilities such a system would need to achieve the demonstrated functionality. As new topics are discussed throughout the course, the class returns to the original list of capabilities and students are asked to identify what capabilities recent topics can address and then implement the new components. This immediately puts individual topics into a larger context. After all of the individual capabilities have been addressed, students work together in groups to develop a block diagram which combines the individual components to first realize the reaction timer functionality. Over multiple lab periods they implement the reaction timer design and, leveraging this experience, design and implement the pulse monitor. In the end, students create a meaningful system that incorporates multiple course concepts and that demonstrates that idea of hierarchical design that is common in many areas of engineering. A large majority of students (70-75%) report that the Health Monitor a) provided context for the application of digital circuits, b) showed meaningful uses for individual course topics, and c) helped connect different course topics.

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Watkins, M. A. (2018, June), Design and Implementation of a Health-monitoring Design Project in an Introductory Digital Design Course Paper presented at 2018 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Salt Lake City, Utah. 10.18260/1-2--30260

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