Harvey Mudd to release free online engineering course to world in spring

College students walk along a paved path. On their right is a tan tile and glass building. Plants and trees surround the building and path.
Harvey Mudd’s Engineering Department announced they will be offering Digital Design and Computer Architecture as a free online course in the spring. (Austin Huang • The Student Life)

Harvey Mudd College will offer a digital design and computer architecture free massive online open course to the world in the spring.

HMC joins other colleges, such as Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology, by offering online courses that are open to the general public on EdX, which has over 2,500 courses from 140 institutions. Mudd previously offered classes on the site, but none are currently active. 

The online version of the class, ENGR85: Digital Design and Computer Architecture, is currently being piloted by approximately 50 Mudd students and three high school students as part of the regular HMC engineering curriculum, called Digital Electronics and Computer Engineering on Portal. The course is being updated based on the recommendations of current students before being made publicly available.

The trial version of the online format is currently being taught by professor David Harris, with assistant professor Josh Brake planning to teach the corresponding mass open online course in parallel during the spring.

Mudd plans to open up registration for the spring session later this fall, which will be open to anyone with a free EdX account. The ungraded version of the MOOC will be free, but Harris said he expects a graded version of the class to be available for a small fee. The professors said they hope that the course will increase access to engineering education.

The digital electronics section of the course will include Boolean algebra, finite state machines and transmission lines. The computer engineering section will include levels of abstraction, assembly language programming and memory systems.

The course will also be broken down into an asynchronous section followed by a synchronous class section on a weekly schedule. Students will watch a set of course lecture videos which have five- to 10-minute videos interspersed with practice problems. In class, students will complete problem sets to apply the concepts they learned in the videos.

Currently, Mudd students are also given a take-home lab kit with “a breadboard, a RED-V Thing Plus RISC-V single board computer, LEDs, switches and an accelerometer,” according to the college’s website. Lab assignments run parallel with in-class material and allow students to see the ideas in practice with hands-on learning.

The class also aims to fulfill Mudd’s mission statement by bringing the students to an understanding of “the impact of their work on society” via writing reflections. Students will then share their reflections and comment on their classmate’s reflections.

The course is being released along with a new edition of the textbook, also called Digital Design and Computer Architecture, written by Harris and University of Nevada, Las Vegas professor Sarah Harris.

“We expect it will be available online for the foreseeable future, and plan to have a way that non-HMC audiences can learn the content at a more relaxed, self-paced schedule,” Brake said via a Mudd press release.

“We hope that the MOOC will be able to make the beauty and joy of digital systems accessible to unconventional audiences.”

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