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Frequently, the practical perspective of a new signal processing graduate is formed entirely on lab classes, projects and just general exposure to DSP microprocessors. For new graduates the term "real-time signal processing" is often equated with the DSP microprocessor. The signal processing landscape has changed. New generation field programmable gate arrays (FPGAs) offer solutions to challenging signal processing problems that are more flexible and aligned with industry requirements of customization, performance and cost. FPGAs arm the educator and student with a platform for exploring topics ranging from computer architecture, through to algorithm exploration, in a very different way, and with more flexibility, than an instruction set processor based approach. This paper looks at ways to use the FPGA in a graduate level signal processing class and how recent generation design methodologies provide access to this technology and let the designer (student) focus on the problem, rather than the details of the base technology.