Multimedia Teaching Materials for Electronic Design Software

Keywords: Multimedia Teaching, Electronic Design, Undergraduate Education

Submitted in Response to:
EASNE 1996 Request for Proposals for Curriculum Development

Dept. of ECE
University of Massachusetts
Amherst, MA 01003
Duration: March 1, 1996 to September 30, 1996

Technical Point of Contact

Wayne Burleson
(413) 545-2382
fax (413) 545-1993


Novel multimedia teaching materials will be developed to allow students to learn modern electronic design methods while addressing manufacturing issues. The materials will be built around three commercial computer-aided design (CAD) software packages which support logic design, microcontroller design, and printed circuit board design, from industrial partners Altera, Microchip and PADs, respectively. The materials will consist of videos, written materials and software design examples, much of which will be available on the World Wide Web for broad dissemination. This is a continuation and expansion of an earlier effort supported by industry and the Academy for integrating manufacturing into upper-level computer design courses. This proposal will extend the impact of that earlier work into a broader set of Electrical and Computer Engineering courses.

Objective and Motivation

This proposal describes the development of new multimedia for teaching about manufacturing in ECE design courses. The original teaching materials were developed with Academy support in the summer of 1995 and a pilot course was offered in the Fall of 1995. A number of new and ambitious approaches were utilized to bring manufacturing issues into the senior-level Computer Design course at the University of Massachusetts and several of these will be available for use in a similar course this spring at the University of Rhode Island. Most notably, substantial industrial involvement in this program allowed the development of new lab hardware and software as well as an 11 lecture video-taped series featuring 5 industrial guests.

One of the major lessons we learned in the fall course was the significant challenge involved in rapidly introducing industrial design techniques into the curriculum. Student evaluations and industrial observers of the course were very supportive of the techniques chosen, but the lack of time and appropriate tutorial materials prevented the students from gaining as much as they could have from industrial CAD tools. It is not surprising that industrial software tools require a substantial learning curve and support and that vendors are not too interested in developing specialized student materials. Therefore, we propose to create specialized teaching materials for 3 of the PC software packages: MaxPlus from Altera, PICstart from Microchip and PADsPCB from PADs. These packages provide high-performance graphical interfaces for logic design, microcontroller system design and printed circuit board design, respectively.

Description and Approach

The objective of this proposal is create new teaching materials for three CAD software packages that were recently used in a senior computer design lab course. By making these commercial software packages available to students, the students are exposed to the manufacturing issues in three facets of electronic system design. In particular design for manufacturability, testability, reliability and quality are addressed. CAD packages provide designers with the ability to analyze the cost, performance and reliability of their systems prior to fabrication, thus allowing them to optimize and verify that specifications are met. Digital systems designers are working at higher and higher levels of abstraction, using tools such as hardware description languages (HDLs), programmable logic and software on microcontrollers and digital signal processors. University labs need to move beyond just teaching about prototyping (e.g. breadboards) and simulation and give all senior level students exposure to real design-for-manufacturing techniques that they will encounter in industry. This needs to be emphasized in all aspects of a computer systems design, from software to programmable logic to processor and memory selection and finally printed circuit boards.

Rather than using a traditional lecture approach, novel teaching materials allow students to work on their own or in small groups, thus accomodating different rates of learning. The interactive nature of the software packages themselves also allows quick feedback to the student and the gratification of a real design. For both the Altera and Microchip products, we have development systems which allow a student to actually implement their design in a matter of minutes on a programmable VLSI chip. Actual manufacture of printed circuit boards design in the PADs system is also becoming quite rapid, available from area vendors in less than a week.

The teaching materials will allow the use of these packages in additional ECE courses such as 350 (Computer Design Lab), 326 (Microprocessor Lab), and 497 (Senior Design Project) as well as other Engineering courses. The materials will be relatively self-contained and will allow any upper-level engineering student to quickly acquire skills for developing electronic prototypes while considering manufacturing issues. Obviously, ECE students with more hardware and software experience will be best able to use these tools, but other engineering students will be able to do simple designs as well as understand the manufacturing issues involved when developing the electronic subsystems which now exist throughout almost all modern engineering.

The teaching materials will consist of video-taped lectures, written tutorials and design examples for each of the 3 software systems. These will be available across all Academy schools and all written materials and design examples will be available to the larger Internet community from the course Web page which has already been substantially developed under the previous grant.

Our use of novel video techniques in 551 will be extended in this proposed work. In 551, a novel video of demonstrations in the UMASS computer design laboratory was developed. This was the first time that the UMASS VIP did any video-taping outside of their studios. We also intend to explore the use of novel methods for digital dissemination, namely CD-ROM and video over the Internet. Both of these methods will be novel for the UMASS Video Instructional Program but are key to the future of distance learning and continuing education. The proposed materials provide a concise piece of video content with which we can explore these novel methods. Initially this will consist just of MPEG compressed versions of the video. Later, interactive techniques and combinations of video, audio, graphics and text can be used to fully exploit the capabilities of digital multi-media..

Work and Time Plan

May 96: 	 Development of Altera teaching materials (UMA). 
June 96: 	 Development of Altera examples, PADs and PIC written 
		 materials (UMA),  
June 96: 	 PADs and PIC examples.  
July 96: 	 Development of Videos.  Testing of software by graduate TA 
Aug 96: 	 Evaluation of materials by industrial partners 
 		 Exploration of CD-ROM and Web video clips with UMASS/VIP 
Fall 96: 	 Use of materials in courses at UMA and possibly URI

Working Across Academy Schools

This work is an extension of a joint proposal by UMA and URI. The results of that proposal as well as this proposal will be broadly available to all Academy Schools. I have contacted Keith Barker at UCONN and Godi Fischer at URI about possible uses of this material at their institutions.

The nature of the proposed teaching materials greatly simplifies their dissemination. In addition, the relationships we have built with Altera, Microchip and PADs should greatly facilitate introduction of similar programs at other Academy school.

Retention Impact

This proposal involves extensive teaming, cooperative learning and hands-on design because of the interactive nature of the software packages. The impact on retention is substantial because it provides students with skills for the workplace, thus making them more marketable. It also provides students with tangible design skills. The software packages are not merely vocational skills, but instead, represent design methods sought by a broad variety of industries which use electronic systems. In addition, the exposure to industry and manufacturing should aid retention by showing direct mobility from the senior year into the job market. We have seen similar results in a senior-level VLSI Design elective at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.

Project Evaluation

The outcomes of the proposed efforts, namely the multi-media teaching materials (videos, written materials, Web page), will be evaluated by 1) students, 2) faculty for use in their courses, and 3) software vendors, who will hopefully be persuaded to distribute these materials even more widely across their university programs.


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