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Methodologies and Tools for Learning Digital Electronics

Giorgio Da Bormida, Student Member, IEEE, Domenico Ponta, and Giuliano Donzellini



Abstract - This paper presents methodologies and tools characterizing a computer-based learning environment developed by the authors for an introductory course in digital electronics. Different methodologies support all phases of the formative process. Special emphasis is put on a progressive use of simulation techniques to stimulate learner activity and overcome some difficulties inherent to the subject.

The learning tools implement four instructional methodologies: expositive, demonstrative, interactive, and practical. The first relates to the presentation of theory, concepts and other information and it is based on multimedia hypertext enriched with animation. In the second, scripts underlying the schematics and algorithms just introduced demonstrate their behavior. In the third, the learner interacts with properly designed tools to practice and test her/his level of proficiency. Network and algorithm design and analysis are the targets of the last methodology, based on the use of custom-built general purpose simulators. The learning tools are interconnected by a hypertext shell, which provides a homogeneous appearance and pedagogical continuity.

To gain a better operational understanding of the issues described, a set of working examples of the tools, linked directly to the text introducing them, is provided as an essential part of the paper.



Introduction

The pedagogical methodologies described in this paper are the foundation of a Computer-Based Learning (CBL) package for digital electronics that has been developed by the authors. The package, or courseware, as it will be called in the following, includes all the material of a classical introductory course on Digital Systems Electronics (ESD) and is currently used by the students in the second year of the Electronics and Computer Science Engineering curricula at the University of Genoa. The subjects are, essentially, combinational and sequential logic systems, including state machines and microprocessors.

Even if computer-based environments that take advantage of multimedia technology to improve education and training are not new [1], [2], it is a fact that such new technologies change the characteristics of all phases of the traditional learning process and that their pedagogical results have still to be fully assessed. The traditional features of technical education (i.e. presentation of theory and concepts, their explanation, verification of learning and design practice) have, of course, to be maintained, but redefined to take into account the specificity of the new delivery media. We believe that a proper way to direct the development of the CBL material is to analyze the behavior of the learner while using the courseware. In the traditional lecture, the learner is a quasi-passive observer and listener of knowledge transmitted by an external center (the teacher). With CBL (active learning), the student is the new center of the learning process, exploring the environment and building knowledge and skills using simulation-based instruction tools [3]. This implies that the student plays an active role that is an essential ingredient for a successful CBL recipe [4].

On the basis of these assumptions, we have developed a CBL course in which we emphasize appropriate interaction with a rich environment and the application of the "learning-by-doing" paradigm [5]. The pedagogical methodologies adopted in the courseware can be grouped into four categories: expositive, demonstrative, interactive, and practical [6], [7]. A detailed description of each one is the object of the following sections (Fig. 1).

In the courseware, such methodologies are implemented by a set of software tools that work in different ways according to the specific pedagogical methodology they implement [8]. These tools that, in the following, will be called "learning tools", have been developed to promote understanding of various issues in digital electronics. The courseware is, therefore, composed of different learning tools that are interconnected by a hypertext shell, providing a homogeneous appearance and pedagogical continuity [9].





Figure 1


Fig.1. The methodological structure of the courseware.




Note

This paper takes advantage of the ToolBook plug-in, called Neuron, that should be installed before reading. You can download this application directly from the Asymetrix Web site.



Structure of the Paper

Introduction
The Expositive Methodology Hypertext
Animation
The Demonstrative Methodology Animation
Local Simulation
The Interactive Methodology Test
Interactive Tutoring Exercises
Interactive Construction of Algorithms
The Practical Methodology Local tools
General-purpose tools
Conclusion
References


Contact Information

Giorgio Da Bormida
Electronic Systems and Networking Group
Department of Biophysical and Electronics Engineering
ESNG-DIBE, University of Genoa
via Opera Pia, 11a
16145 Genoa, Italy
Phone: ++39 10 3532174
Fax: ++39 10 3532175
E-mail: nemo@dibe.unige.it
Web: http://www.esng.dibe.unige.it/people/GiorgioDaBormida.html

Biography

Domenico Ponta
Electronic Systems and Networking Group
Department of Biophysical and Electronics Engineering
ESNG-DIBE, University of Genoa
via Opera Pia, 11a
16145 Genoa, Italy
Phone: ++39 10 3532759
Fax: ++39 10 3532175
E-mail: ponta@dibe.unige.it
Web: http://www.esng.dibe.unige.it/people/DomenicoPonta.html

Biography

Giuliano Donzellini
Electronic Systems and Networking Group
Department of Biophysical and Electronics Engineering
ESNG-DIBE, University of Genoa
via Opera Pia, 11a
16145 Genoa, Italy
Phone: ++39 10 3532191
Fax: ++39 10 3532175
E-mail: donzie@dibe.unige.it
Web: http://www.esng.dibe.unige.it/people/GiulianoDonzellini.html

Biography



Biographies

Giorgio Da Bormida (S'96) is a student in the last year of electronics engineering. In 1995 he joined the Electronic Systems and Networking Group (ESNG), a research group of University of Genoa, developing educational software for digital electronics. He participates in the European project ARIADNE (ET 1002), carrying out his research activity on "educational networked multimedia systems". Since 1995, with the support of three Hewlett-Packard scholarships, he has been working in the HP Distance Learning Initiative (DLI). He is the author (or co-author) of twenty papers in international journals and conference proceedings. Mr. Da Bormida is a student member of AACE, the Internet Society and the IEEE Education Society.


Domenico Ponta has been Associate Professor of Electronics at the University of Genoa, Italy since 1987. After completing his degree in Electronic Engineering, he was a visiting scholar at the Center for Integrated Systems, Stanford University, USA and worked as Research Engineer and Engineering Section Manager at TSI, Mountain View, CA. His professional competence includes: measurements on semiconductors, analog and digital circuit design, electro-optical systems, and electronics aids for visually impaired people. In the last few years, he has targeted his activities to the development of computer-based tools for learning electronics. Since 1990 he has taught the course "Digital Systems Electronics". He is the author or co-author of about eighty papers in international journals and conference proceedings.


Giuliano Donzellini received the Laurea degree in Electronic Engineering in 1980 from the University of Genoa. Initially he joined Marconi Italiana where he worked on digital telephone systems. He is now Assistant Professor at the Department of Electronics of the University of Genoa. He has worked on automatic measurement, image analysis and process control systems. Currently he is interested in computer-based learning in electronics, object oriented hardware architectures for industrial control systems and informatized speleological topographic surveying systems. He is currently teaching the course Digital Systems Electronics 1.





[ Index | Introduction | Expositive | Demonstrative | Interactive | Practical | Conclusion | References ]