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Conference Proceeding

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In this paper we aim to present the lessons learned from flipping the classroom of an entry-level graduate course on digital hardware design. This digital hardware design course uses hardware description languages (HDLs) for programming and requires students to learn relevant concepts and methodologies to successfully design, simulate, synthesize, and verify digital circuits created using hands-on projects and in-class activities. In addition, students in the digital hardware design class get exposure and gain familiarity with an industrial design suite to enhance their knowledge of real-life design cycles.

Typically, students struggle with provided in-class activities, assignments, and projects in any digital hardware design class; even those with prior experience in the field may still struggle due to the complex nature of HDLs. The effort required for large digital designs is often overwhelming and leads to time commitments of several hours outside of the classroom to debug design issues without help from the instructor or teaching assistant(s). This extra time spent shows that help through office hours and recitation sessions is definitely needed to help prepare students.

This work summarizes our explored implications of taking a previously all-lecture-based classroom environment, with traditional teaching methods, and changing to an active-learning environment using multi-modal teaching techniques. In this new teaching environment, students were directed to watch and follow along with short videos produced with the goal of providing instructional and pre-programmed digital hardware design exercises before coming into class. The pre-programmed exercises help change the classroom environment into a center for active-learning through means of creative activities. Students in the active-learning environment are further urged to work in teams on the provided activities to reinforce key concepts and operational ideologies.

From the students’ perspectives, our preliminary results show that less time was spent working alone on assignments and projects due to the new active-learning environment, pre-class preparation, and in-class group-work activities. The new active-learning environment included online preview of lecture notes, constant interaction between the instructor, teaching assistant(s), and students, and an increased number of in-class hands-on activities. From an instructional perspective, regardless of drawbacks, the new active-learning environment and teaching techniques allowed for the instructor to reinforce and delve deeper into course content while allowing students to work efficiently with new material. The results from the change to an active learning environment on students’ work on assignments and projects during non class-times is: adequate preparation, easy reference to related materials, and an overall wealth of knowledge in the field of digital hardware design.

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© 2018, American Society for Engineering Education, Proceedings of ASEE Annual Conference (Salt Lake City, UT, June 23-27,2018).