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Teaching Ground-Floor Digital Circuits to Pre-Engineering Students

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2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Vancouver, BC

Publication Date

June 26, 2011

Start Date

June 26, 2011

End Date

June 29, 2011



Conference Session

Hardware Applications

Tagged Division

Computers in Education

Page Count


Page Numbers

22.1394.1 - 22.1394.8



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Paper Authors


Christopher R. Carroll University of Minnesota, Duluth

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Christopher R. Carroll earned academic degrees at Georgia Tech and Caltech. He is Associate Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the University of Minnesota Duluth. His interests are digital systems and microprocessor applications, especially as they relate to educational environments.

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Teaching Ground-Floor Digital Circuits to Pre-Engineering Students (Author information omitted for review)AbstractDigital circuits pervade many applications in all engineering disciplines today. Digital circuitbasics are easy to introduce early in a pre-engineering curriculum because there are no math orother technical prerequisites, and because the topic sounds glamorous to students. Presentedhere is a lab instrument that serves well for teaching basic, “ground-floor,” digital circuits tostudents who have no engineering background. Also included is a teaching strategy that uses thisinstrument to present digital circuits in an uncomplicated and non-intimidating way. Thismaterial is suitable for college freshmen, high-school students, or even middle school students,and could be incorporated into the curriculum for pre-engineering courses such as Project Leadthe Way’s digital electronics course.The instrument discussed here, known as the Digisplay, was disclosed in an earlier ASEE paper1.It is a very simple and inexpensive instrument that uses a 5x8 LED dot matrix display to showtruth tables and state transitions in digital circuits. It is useful for testing both combinational andsynchronous sequential circuits, which together form the heart of basic digital circuit design.The Digisplay is intuitive to use and cheap enough to be accessible even to high school budgets.The secret to presenting digital circuits successfully to students who have no technicalbackground is to avoid references to electricity or computers and stick purely with the 1’s and0’s. In such a setting, digital circuits are just implementations of mathematical expressions.There are no “volts” or “bytes” or anything that might confuse the simplicity of 1’s and 0’s. Bytreating digital circuits as just equations built with hardware, and treating wires as just pencillines that connect logical elements in drawings, students can learn to design and build digitalcircuits comfortably.This paper provides applications of the Digisplay, and discusses techniques for using thatinstrument in teaching digital circuits to students who have no technical background.References1. (author omitted for review), “Test Equipment for High School Digital Electronics Designs under Project Lead theWay,” Proceedings of the 2007 ASEE North Midwest Section Meeting, Houghton, MI (2007).2. (author omitted for review), “Digital Logic Lab Experiments Using the Chipmonk Instrument,” Proceedings ofthe 2001 ASEE North Midwest Section Meeting, Grand Forks, ND (2001).3. (author omitted for review), “Portable Input/Output Instrument for Interfacing Student Designs,” 1998 ASEEAnnual Conference, Seattle, WA (1998).

Carroll, C. R. (2011, June), Teaching Ground-Floor Digital Circuits to Pre-Engineering Students Paper presented at 2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Vancouver, BC. 10.18260/1-2--18411

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