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Teaching Dsp Before Analog Signals: Some Unexpected Consequences

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2009 Annual Conference & Exposition


Austin, Texas

Publication Date

June 14, 2009

Start Date

June 14, 2009

End Date

June 17, 2009



Conference Session

Pedagogy and Assessment III

Tagged Division

Electrical and Computer

Page Count


Page Numbers

14.1131.1 - 14.1131.7



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Paper Authors


Jay Wierer MSOE

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Dr. Jay Wierer is Assistant Professor of Electrical Engineering at the Milwaukee School of Engineering (MSOE). He received his Ph.D. degree from the University of Wisconsin - Madison in 2008. He is a Member of the IEEE and enjoys teaching courses in communications, signals and systems, DSP, controls, and circuits.

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Steven Reyer MSOE

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Dr. Reyer is Professor of Electrical Engineering at the Milwaukee School of Engineering (MSOE). He received his Ph.D. degree from Marquette University in 1978 (candidate at the University of Illinois). He has done consulting in digital signal processing for the broadcast industry (digital stereo FM radio and digital television) and power industry. He is a Senior Member of the IEEE and typically teaches courses in digital signal processing, circuits and senior design.

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

Teaching DSP Before Analog Signals – Some Unexpected Consequences


For many years our electrical engineering program’s required analog signal analysis course was taught before the Digital Signal Processing (DSP) elective. That has been the tradition at many universities. But while students would do an acceptable job in the analog course they would often express displeasure regarding the level of rigor required by the course. It was suspected that the calculus content of this first course dealt a blow making the material somewhat abstract. Plus, the course had no laboratory, so the only exposure to signals problems was “on paper.”

Four years ago the EE program was changed significantly1,2 to a model that includes teaching material on an as-needed basis. For example, we teach the ideal op amp topic to freshmen, delaying the details of the internal workings to a later course. The freshmen could then see the utility of, and use in simple designs, a powerful circuit tool.

Another change was to institute DSP as a required course, and to be taught before the analog signals course. While this is somewhat non-traditional, it appeared to be a logical choice. The faculty generally believed that the mathematics in DSP was simpler than in analog signals – there is no calculus, and the math is mostly algebra with some infinite series concepts. It was believed that students would more readily grasp ideas of frequency content, spectrum, and filtering. Additionally, teaching DSP first3 has been proven to be successful at other institutions.

After two years of the new approach, the situation was assessed. As one measure, student grades in the analog signals course were examined in both the pre-DSP and post-DSP programs. Somewhat to our surprise, grades in the analog course decreased slightly, as a whole, with the DSP-first approach. The decrease was small but, more significantly, it was not the expected increase. Interestingly, examination of individual students showed that those who took DSP first had analog course grades that were distributed normally relative to their DSP grades – some improved, some declined. Personal interviews with these students revealed a variety of opinions on the merits of DSP-first and how that affects performance in the analog course.

This assessment is a work in progress, and efforts have been identified to contribute to improved analog course performance success in using the DSP-first approach.


For many years the signals and systems thread was taught in the same sequence as at other major universities: a required analog signals and systems course first, followed by digital signal processing (an elective) and communication systems. In 2004, the EE curriculum1,2 at the Milwaukee School of Engineering (MSOE) was modified significantly so that topics were being

Wierer, J., & Reyer, S. (2009, June), Teaching Dsp Before Analog Signals: Some Unexpected Consequences Paper presented at 2009 Annual Conference & Exposition, Austin, Texas. 10.18260/1-2--5029

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