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New teaching boards for first year Computer Architecture

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18 November 2013

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The first year COMS12200 course on Introduction to Computer Architecture is a showcase for the Computer Science departement's hands-on teaching methodology.

Teaching computer hardware presents particular difficulty over other subjects due to the fact that electrons are invisible and that the majority of conventional teaching approaches to simple logic design are based on either lectured material, books or complex hardware systems.

The NANDboards take a back-to-basics approach, providing students with a platform where they have direct control over 16 NAND gates (one of the most basic and universal logical components in hardware design - see the Wikipedia article on NAND gates).

The boards have been designed by Dr Simon Hollis, one of our lecturers, who specialises in computer architecture and embedded design. They are powered by a USB connection, feature lights on each output to illustrate their values and students use free wiring to connect the NAND gates in various combinations to make other logical hardware components, such as XOR gates, adders and latches.

The students are led through this process in a laboratory environment using series of lab worksheets and with the assistance of academic staff and demonstrators, and this forms a key part of their first year curriculum.