The discrete cosine transform (DCT) is an important functional block for image processing applications. The implementation of a DCT has been viewed as a specialized research task. We apply a micro-architecture based methodology to the hardware implementation of an efficient DCT algorithm in a digital design course. Several circuit optimization and design space exploration techniques at the register-transfer and logic levels are introduced in class for generating the final design. The students not only learn how the algorithm can be implemented, but also receive insights about how other signal processing algorithms can be translated into a hardware implementation. Since signal processing has very broad applications, the study and implementation of an extensively used signal processing algorithm in a digital design course significantly enhances the learning experience in both digital signal processing and digital design areas for the students.