Programmable logic devices (PLDs) are used at many universities in introductory digital logic laboratories, where kits containing a single high-capacity PLD replace “standard” sets containing breadboards, wires, and small- or medium-scale integration (SSI/MSI) chips. From the pedagogical point of view, two problems arise in these laboratories. First, students have some difficulties in understanding the link between discrete and programmable design techniques. Second, using only a single PLD, students are not automatically forced to learn modular design skills, which is one of the required learning outcomes in electrical engineering (EE) curricula. To overcome these problems, an innovative laboratory is proposed in this paper. Each training board contains four complex PLDs (CPLDs) and peripherals. In the initial sessions, students implement designs in which CPLDs are programmed as standard SSI/MSI chips and interconnected to construct the target circuit. Then, an active learning technique is used: Students form groups of any size and can set themselves more complex problems and choose their design approach. The proposed laboratory was set up at the Technical University of Lodz, Lodz, Poland, and the first classes were given in the 2008-2009 academic year. The instructors' insights and design reports and feedback from students were gathered and analyzed. The results showed the effectiveness of the novel approach. Students were deeply involved in solving self-imposed problems. They learned “engineering imagination,” modular design, and teamwork skills. Some groups went far beyond the requirements set by the instructor. However, an additional conclusion is that the “standard” approach should not be completely eliminated.
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