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Identifying the Core Conceptual Framework of Digital Logic

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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

Electrical and Computer Poster Session

Tagged Division

Electrical and Computer

Page Count


Page Numbers

25.712.1 - 25.712.13



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Paper Authors


Geoffrey L. Herman University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign Orcid 16x16

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Geoffrey L. Herman earned his Ph.D. in Electrical and Computer Engineering from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign as a Mavis Future Faculty Fellow. He is currently a Postdoctoral Researcher for the Illinois Foundry for Engineering Education. His research interests include conceptual change and development in engineering students, promoting intrinsic motivation in the classroom, blended learning (integrating online teaching tools into the classroom), and intelligent tutoring systems. He is a recipient of the 2011 American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE) Educational Research and Methods Division Apprentice Faculty Grant. He has been recognized with the Olesen Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching from the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering and the Ernest A. Reid Fellowship for engineering education. He has served as a graduate affiliate for the Center for Teaching Excellence. He is currently the information chair for the ASEE Student Division and the immediate past chair of the Graduate Engineering Education Consortium for Students.

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Michael C. Loui University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign

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Michael C. Loui is professor of electrical and computer engineering and University Distinguished Teacher-Scholar at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. His interests include computational complexity theory, professional ethics, and the scholarship of teaching and learning. He serves as Executive Editor of College Teaching, and as a member of the editorial board of Accountability in Research. He is a Carnegie Scholar and an IEEE Fellow. Loui was Associate Dean of the Graduate College at Illinois from 1996 to 2000. He directed the theory of computing program at the National Science Foundation from 1990 to 1991. He earned the Ph.D. at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1980.

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Identifying the Core Conceptual Framework of Digital LogicWith the development of concept inventories and other conceptual assessment tools, engineeringeducators have become increasingly aware of the importance of teaching students about concepts andconceptual frameworks rather than rote skills or lists of facts. Students who possess a consistent coreconceptual framework are better able to recall knowledge, apply knowledge, and learn new knowledge,because the framework helps them synthesize their knowledge into a manageable cognitive unit.In the context of long-established disciplines such as physics or calculus, instructors commonly agreeupon a core conceptual framework for the discipline (e.g., Newton’s three laws are the foundation ofmechanics courses). However, in younger, emerging disciplines such as digital logic and computerorganization, there is no core conceptual framework and instructors disagree about what concepts,tools, and skills are essential for a student to learn in a first course in the field. For example, a Delphipoll of experienced digital logic instructors and textbook authors revealed disagreements about theimportance of various topics in a first digital logic course. Perhaps even more telling, these instructorscomplained that they could not cover all of the “basics” in a first course on digital logic.These instructors felt that they needed to keep introducing new information into their courses to keeptheir students prepared for this ever-changing field. In the absence of a unified, accepted conceptualframework, or even an IEEE standard for definitions of core terms, instructors are left to only personalbiases and previous syllabi to decide what to teach in their courses. An established and accepted coreconceptual framework can empower instructors to make better informed decisions when choosinglearning goals for their courses and about what content to keep in their courses. Establishing a coreconceptual framework can also focus instruction and help students develop better conceptualknowledge and be better ready for the evolving discipline of computer architecture.In this paper, we hope to begin a dialogue to establish a core conceptual framework for digital logiccourses. We present evidence from a Delphi poll of experienced digital logic instructors and textbookauthors to define the scope for a “typical” digital logic course. Next, we use evidence from a series ofstudies on students’ misconceptions in digital logic to present a case for the centrality of certainconcepts. In other words, we argue that if students understand a core concept in digital logic, then thatunderstanding should improve their performance in digital logic more generally. Improvedunderstanding of non-core concepts, in contrast, will not improve students’ performance generally.Then, we present a proposal for a core conceptual framework for digital logic and demonstrate how thiscore conceptual framework underpins many of the concepts and skills of digital logic. We conclude bypresenting suggestions for instruction and for future research.

Herman, G. L., & Loui, M. C. (2012, June), Identifying the Core Conceptual Framework of Digital Logic Paper presented at 2012 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, San Antonio, Texas. 10.18260/1-2--21469

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