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Analytic Framework for Students' Cognitive Mistakes in Studying Electromagnetic Fields

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2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


New Orleans, Louisiana

Publication Date

June 26, 2016

Start Date

June 26, 2016

End Date

August 28, 2016





Conference Session

Electromagnetics & Power Education

Tagged Division

Electrical and Computer

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Paper Authors


Yu Gong Purdue University, West Lafayette

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Yu Gong is a graduate student in the School of Engineering Education and School of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Purdue University. Her researches focus on cognitive difficulties in engineering study, model-based inquiry learning, nanotechnology education, and global engineering education.

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N. Sanjay Rebello Purdue University, West Lafayette

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Dr. Sanjay Rebello is Professor of Physics and Astronomy and Professor of Curriculum and Instruction at Purdue University. His research focuses on the teaching and learning of physics. He is particularly interested in issues pertaining to transfer of learning and problem solving in physics and engineering. Most recently his research has focused on using the principles of visual cognition to design multimedia hints and cues to facilitate problem solving. This research has potential applications for the design on online learning environments.

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Michael R. Melloch Purdue University, West Lafayette

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Michael R. Melloch received the B.S.E.E., M.S.E.E., and Ph.D degrees from Purdue University in 1975, 1976, and 1981 respectively. From June 1976 to August 1978 he was a design engineer at Intel Corporation (Santa Clara, CA) where he worked on the 8748, the first single-chip microcomputer, and the 8051, a second-generation single-chip microcomputer. In February 1982 he joined the Central Research Laboratories at Texas Instruments as a member of the Technical Staff. At Texas Instruments his research interests centered around GaAs surface acoustic wave devices. In August 1984 he joined the School of Electrical Engineering, Purdue University, as an Assistant Professor and he is presently a Full Professor and Associate Head of the School of Electrical & Computer Engineering.

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Sean P. Brophy Purdue University, West Lafayette

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Dr. Sean Brophy is learning scientist with degrees in mechanical engineering, computer science and education and human development. His research in engineering education and learning sciences explores how students of engineering think and learn with technologies. Many of his recent technologies focus on the blending of physical and virtual worlds to make difficult concepts more accessible to learners of all ages.

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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.

Gong, Y., & Rebello, N. S., & Melloch, M. R., & Brophy, S. P. (2016, June), Analytic Framework for Students' Cognitive Mistakes in Studying Electromagnetic Fields Paper presented at 2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, New Orleans, Louisiana. 10.18260/p.26240

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