New Orleans, Louisiana
June 26, 2016
June 26, 2016
August 28, 2016
Electrical and Computer
Students’ cognitive difficulties in studying electromagnetic fields
Electromagnetic (EM) fields are important theoretical foundations of modern society. The course introducing EM fields and theories has been widely listed as one of core courses for engineering and physics students at multiple levels.
Due to the intensive mathematical representations and invisibility of the physical phenomena, misconceptions and mental knowledge structure deficiencies on abstract EM concepts are two main learning challenges for students. Detailed misconception inventories and alternative conceptual frameworks about EM fields have been extensively studied through multiple-choices surveys, in-depth interviews and other research methods. Visualized demonstrations and interactive simulation tools have also been implemented into EM classrooms to improve students’ learning outcomes. However, most of the prior research focused on specific topics, studied under different learning environments. Fewer efforts have been made for overall examinations on students’ common mistakes and cognitive difficulties during the entire semester.
To get a broader and systematic understanding on students’ knowledge development in EM problem solving, we are now conducting a comprehensive study in a junior-level electromagnetic fields class with 54 students. All students’ weekly homework and monthly exams have been being qualitatively analyzed. Midterm surveys have also been being delivered to students after each exam to collect learning reflections from students’ perspectives.
Preliminary results indicate that, students’ self-ratings and homework practices are strongly correlated with their exam performance. The learning difficulties identified by the research team are consistent with those from students’ learning reflections. Besides declarative learning difficulties on knowledge definitions and mathematical descriptions, students also show problems in procedural knowledge and schematic knowledge understanding, which greatly affect their EM study. More details will be discussed in the final paper submitted to ASEE.
The systematic investigation of learning difficulties during the semester is important to increase instructor’s awareness of students’ study progress, which also provide in-time evidence for instructors to design or adjust instructional strategies to improve teaching efficiency. This work will be reported as an oral presentation.
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