June 22, 2008
June 22, 2008
June 25, 2008
Electrical and Computer
13.601.1 - 13.601.11
Extensive Use of Advanced FPGA Technology in Digital Design Education
The design tools, methods, and technologies used in industry to design digital hardware evolve quickly and continuously. Since the inception of wide-spread CAD tool use to define digital circuits around 40 years ago, revolutionary tool changes have occurred every 5 to 10 years. Although many of the foundational concepts are relatively unchanged, educational programs must nevertheless keep pace with technologies in common use in order to produce graduates who are competitive in the marketplace.
A study conducted at Rose Hulman Institute of Technology measures changes in student performance when all students have unlimited access to state of the art design tools and hardware systems. Data are collected from surveys, exams, and course assignments such as project and lab reports. Quantitative data are analyzed by comparison to historical data gathered from student groups that did not have unlimited access to hardware systems, and qualitative data are used to determine the subjective quality of each student’s experience. Specific outcomes include: assessing whether the overall learning process was improved; whether students have a better knowledge of modern technologies and design methods; whether their comprehension of founding concepts has improved or faltered.
The design tools, methods, and technologies used in industry to design digital hardware to evolve quickly and continuously. Revolutionary tool changes occur every 5 to 10 years, and educational programs must keep pace with technologies in common use in order to produce graduates who are competitive in the marketplace. Today, although roughly 60% of University-based educational programs in the United States use some form of programmable logic devices and associated CAD tools, many programs use them only in more advanced or project-based courses. Further, the vast majority of undergraduate programs that use programmable logic technologies provide only limited access to these technologies in 2 or 3 hour weekly lab sessions. During these lab sessions, students have to master new concepts previously taught in theoretical lectures, use laboratory equipment to build experiments, develop software and hardware debugging skills and learn how use complex CAD tools. The limitation of this traditional approach is the fact that 2 or 3 hours of lab sessions prove insufficient to meet all the lab objectives. Consequently, students do not develop the right skills required by industry.
A new approach, where every student owns his or her own programmable hardware system and CAD tool suite, is now feasible due to decreased costs. Programmable logic systems capable of hosting circuits that range in complexity from simple logic circuits to complete 32-bit microcomputer systems can be purchased for less than $100, and required CAD tools are free. A study currently underway at Rose Hulman Institute of Technology, Electrical and Computer Engineering Department, is attempting to measure the effect on student learning when students own their own programmable hardware system, and have unrestricted access to programmable technologies.
Radu, M., & Cole, C., & Dabacan, M. A., & Sexton, S. (2008, June), Extensive Use Of Advanced Fpga Technology In Digital Design Education Paper presented at 2008 Annual Conference & Exposition, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. https://peer.asee.org/4201
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