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A New Framework For Teaching Electromagnetism: How To Teach Em To All Levels From Freshman To Advanced Level Students

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2003 Annual Conference


Nashville, Tennessee

Publication Date

June 22, 2003

Start Date

June 22, 2003

End Date

June 25, 2003



Conference Session

ECE Education and Engineering Mathematics

Page Count


Page Numbers

8.82.1 - 8.82.17

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Paper Authors

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Norman Anderson

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Mani Mina

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

Session 3632

A New Approach in Teaching Electromagnetism: How to Teach EM to All Levels from Freshman to Graduate and Advanced-Level Students Norman Anderson and Mani Mina Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering Iowa State University

1. Introduction

1.1. Historical perspective

James Clerk Maxwell provided a unified field formulation of electromagnetism in 1873 with his famous “Treatise on Electricity and Magnetism.”1 From the beginning he explained the field was made of a set of observed phenomena, fundamental concepts governing electromagnetism (EM), and mathematical formulations to help the patron utilize and manipulate the concepts in order to explain observed phenomena. Consequently, the mathematical nature of electromagnetism has been an inseparable part of the subject from the beginning. It should be noted that Maxwell himself spends considerable effort in his treatise clearly describing fundamental concepts, observed phenomena, and measurements rather than explaining the detail of the mathematics (which used to be the calculus of quaternion). Then in the first part of the 20th century, Oliver Heaviside and Heinrich Hertz,2 in a practical attempt to make the field more applicable and powerful, introduced the modern vector calculus-based presentation of electromagnetism; however, the basic approach to teaching electromagnetism has remained fundamentally the same. The field is still broken into three major entities, which are the observed phenomena, concepts summarized in Maxwell’s equations and the Lorentz force equation, and the mathematical formulation of these concepts. Despite the subject being highly conceptual and phenomenological in nature, during most of the 20th century EM has been taught with heavy emphasis on the mathematics and fundamental constructs, with a more or less anecdotal approach to the observed phenomena and practical side. It is for this reason that we suggest a new approach to teaching electromagnetism in which the emphasis of concepts and phenomena is strengthened in an attempt to increase the understanding of a typical electrical engineering student.

1.2. The method of teaching EM in history and the present

In general, presenting and understanding the mathematical constructs of EM is a major task for most engineering students. In fact, even the simplified mathematical approach that assumes perfect plane waves and idealized systems (without any outside interference or external forces)3 involves specialized manipulations that are not trivial for most students of EM. Now adding to this the observed phenomena, the level of complexity of learning is considerably compounded. Many tools have since been developed to help both researchers and students understand the subject, apply them to complicated geometries, and visualize the electromagnetic phenomena for

Proceedings of the 2003 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition Copyright  2003, American Society for Engineering Education

Anderson, N., & Mina, M. (2003, June), A New Framework For Teaching Electromagnetism: How To Teach Em To All Levels From Freshman To Advanced Level Students Paper presented at 2003 Annual Conference, Nashville, Tennessee.

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