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VISICOMP: The Visible Computer

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1996 Annual Conference


Washington, District of Columbia

Publication Date

June 23, 1996

Start Date

June 23, 1996

End Date

June 26, 1996



Conference Session

Hands-on Approach to Teaching: Computers (3532)

Page Count


Page Numbers

1.521.1 - 1.521.5



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Paper Authors

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Ruth D. Fogg United States Air Force Academy

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George W. P. York United States Air Force Academy

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At the US Air Force Academy, we found our students have difficulty visualizing the inner workings of a basic computer without some type of training aid. This visualization problem has been noted by others [1][2].

Often students are taught computer architecture using a software programmer’ s model, along with a software tool such as an assembler/simulator. The simulator usually can single step through a program, displaying the results of the registers after each instruction. However, many students don’t seem to follow this abstraction. They can’t see inside the microprocessor chip.

Our solution was to let the students see what is inside a microprocessor by developing our own visual computer. Twenty years ago we developed EDUCOMP for this purpose and found the students enjoyed getting their hands on the hardware. Today we are replacing EDUCOMP with a newer version called VISICOMP, which is more visual and has many improvements, such as a larger memory.

VISICOMP is physically partitioned into the main subsystems of a computer (ALU, Controller, Memory, I/O) and has a motherboard to allow the student manual control of the computer. VISICOMP’s operation is visual to the student, since: (1) each subsystem uses SSI and MSI chips which the students have already learned in our course; (2) the status of the registers, signals, and busses are displayed directly on the subsystems; and (3) the students can manually control each subsystem to observe how each one works. After understanding the basics of the computer subsystems, the students then write their own assembly programs and hand translate them into machine code. They can run their programs in real time, or manually clock the controller to observe what happens during each state of an instruction’ s execution.

This paper will discuss the features of VISICOMP and how it is used in the classroom.

Fogg, R. D., & York, G. W. P. (1996, June), VISICOMP: The Visible Computer Paper presented at 1996 Annual Conference, Washington, District of Columbia. 10.18260/1-2--6393

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