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Experimenting With Web Based, Personalized Homework Assignments

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1999 Annual Conference


Charlotte, North Carolina

Publication Date

June 20, 1999

Start Date

June 20, 1999

End Date

June 23, 1999



Page Count


Page Numbers

4.257.1 - 4.257.8

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Daniel H. Linder

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Session 3232

Experimenting with Web-Based, Personalized Homework Assignments

Daniel H. Linder Mississippi State University


In our senior-level computer architecture course at Mississippi State University, we are experi- menting with using a Web interface to distribute, debug, and collect VHDL programming assign- ments which are unique to each student. Using a standard Web browser, students interact via forms with a remote computer that runs their VHDL simulations, checks the results, and returns debugging information in the form of HTML tables. This presents a simpler interface to the stu- dents than the full VHDL CAD tools and eliminates issues associated with tool distribution and licensing. The personalized nature of the assignments also helps ensure that all students work through the assignments in detail. We have found that the fixed format of the returned simulation results does not interfere with code debugging and that the immediate feedback to the students on the success or failure of their simulations strongly motivates them to work until their simulations are correct.

I. Introduction

The growing importance of hardware description languages such as VHDL for the simulation and synthesis of modern digital systems makes these languages an essential component of a computer engineering curriculum. However, programming assignments in VHDL or other exercises that use CAD tools can be difficult to add to a course for several reasons. CAD tools often have complex interfaces that take time to learn. An assignment using a CAD tool can quickly turn into a struggle with tool usage rather than a reinforcement of lecture concepts. Licensing can be another prob- lem. Many students prefer to work on their own PCs instead of coming to a centralized lab, but CAD tool vendors may be reluctant to make an expensive tool available on all student machines. Finally, if every student has the same assignment, interactions among students can degenerate from discussing concepts to merely exchanging details of how to get the assignment working. When this happens, many students obtain only a superficial understanding of the issues involved in the assignment.

To help address these problems, we are experimenting with using the Web for the distribution, debugging, and collection of VHDL programming assignments1. In our senior-level computer architecture class, a student can use a standard Web browser for the compilation and simulation of VHDL code for specific hardware modules. Code is submitted through an HTML form interface and the results of the simulation are returned via an HTML table. This simple interface allows stu- dents to avoid tool complexities and concentrate on code development. Since the VHDL compila- tion and simulation tools run on a university server, there is no need for installing and licensing the tools on student computers. In fact, the Web interface allows students to work on their assign- ments from virtually any computer—including those not powerful enough to run the tools even if

Linder, D. H. (1999, June), Experimenting With Web Based, Personalized Homework Assignments Paper presented at 1999 Annual Conference, Charlotte, North Carolina.

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