PROJECT-BASED LEARNING IN FPGA
A teaching method in which students gain knowledge and skills is Project Based Learning (PBL). PBL consists on working for a period of time to research and give a solution to real-world, engaging and complex challenge or project. From real experiences many educators around the world are interested in PBL method since it is a very effective and pleasurable way to learn, builds success skills for college, career, and life, helps address standards, provides opportunities for students to use technology and promotes educational equity.
The use of learning techniques encouraging the team–working and autonomy is the desirable paradigm for the last courses of bachelor studies, being thus PBL a favored pedagogical model for achieving these objectives. Design of Electronic Circuits and Systems is a course within the specialization module Electronics Systems of the Degree in Telecommunications Engineering by the University of Granada (Spain). The concepts of digital design, embedded system development and digital signal processing are explored in this course through the use of the Altera DE1 development and education board. The hardware provided on the DE1 board includes a Cyclone® II 2C20 Field Programmable Gate Array (FPGA) device which allows to implement digital circuits through the lookup tables and programmable interconnects. Quartus II Web Edition development suite is used to design, implement, synthesize, and download the digital design to the FPGA through a schematic capture or a hardware description language, as for instance VHDL.
In order to increase students' motivation and commitment with the course, a Project-Based Learning (PBL) strategy has been developed during the second half of the semester. Concretely, this strategy consists of carrying out a design to be implemented in a FPGA using VHDL. Each student can select the project from a list of projects proposed by the teacher or propose a project of its interest, always with the approval of the teacher. In this way, teacher can avoid copies of projects of previous courses and students can carry out a project that motivate them. The teacher will supervise the student in the project development and the student must also deliver a written report and make an oral presentation.
The experience of this PBL proposal had shown very positive results for both students and teachers in terms of academic results and motivation. This pedagogical model shows that when students are appropriately motivated and inspired are able to solve unforeseen problems that enhance the expected engineer skills