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A Comparison Of Student Prerequisite Math Skills With Data From A Circuits Concept Inventory

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2009 Annual Conference & Exposition


Austin, Texas

Publication Date

June 14, 2009

Start Date

June 14, 2009

End Date

June 17, 2009



Conference Session

New Trends in ECE Education

Tagged Division

Electrical and Computer

Page Count


Page Numbers

14.15.1 - 14.15.7



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Paper Authors


Jeff Jalkio University of St. Thomas

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Jeff Jalkio received his PhD in Electrical Engineering from the University of Minnesota and worked for thirteen years in industry in the fields of optical sensor design and process control. In 1984, he co-founded CyberOptics Corporation, where he led engineering efforts as Vice President of Research. In 1997 he returned to academia, joining the engineering faculty of the University of St. Thomas where he teaches courses in digital electronics, computing, electromagnetic fields, controls, and design.

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

A Comparison of Student Pre-requisite Math Skills with Data from a Circuits Concept Inventory


In this paper, we assess the impact of student preparation in mathematics on their ability to learn new concepts in a sophomore level circuit analysis course. While it is widely known that a wide variety of mathematical skills are essential for success in electrical engineering, it is not clear how these skills impact the ability to integrate new concepts. To study this effect, we assessed student performance in several circuit analysis courses. We administered a circuit concept inventory at the beginning and end of each semester to measure conceptual gains in circuits topics. We also administered a math test at the beginning and end of the semester to assess student performance in several prerequisite math topics, such as basic algebra, complex arithmetic, integral and differential calculus, and linear algebra. Results from the four tests were compared to determine correlations between prerequisite math skills and conceptual learning gains.


It is widely known that by comparing results from multiple independent assessment instruments, it is possible to obtain a higher level of confidence in these measurements1. However, we have found that it is also useful to compare assessment results for different outcomes to determine how these results might be correlated. In some cases, such as the one reported here, the results can be surprising.

At our university, we have used a variety of concept inventories to obtain externally normed assessment of several student learning outcomes. These concept inventories2 consist of a pre-test administered at the beginning of the term and a post-test administered at the end. Both tests consist of multiple choice conceptual questions intended to measure the students’ understanding of the concepts presented in the course. The percentage gain from pre-test to post-test can be compared between sections of the same class and between participating schools. A number of such inventories have been, or are being, developed3 and a substantial body of research exists regarding the validity of some of the more established inventories4. We decided to use a readily available Circuits Concept Inventory in our sophomore level linear circuit analysis course.

In what was intended as a completely independent assessment, we also decided to administer a basic math skills test to the same group of students. This decision was based on anecdotal evidence that many of our sophomore engineering students were poorly prepared in algebra and trigonometry and that this was affecting our ability to teach more advanced concepts. Rather than approaching the mathematics department with this anecdotal evidence, we chose to evaluate the basic math skills of our sophomores so that we could determine if a problem really existed and work with the mathematics department to solve it if it were real. Since it seemed likely that using algebra in the circuit analysis class would improve the students’ math skills, we decided to administer the math skills test with the circuit concept inventory at the beginning and end of the semester.

Jalkio, J. (2009, June), A Comparison Of Student Prerequisite Math Skills With Data From A Circuits Concept Inventory Paper presented at 2009 Annual Conference & Exposition, Austin, Texas. 10.18260/1-2--4783

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