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Automated Problem and Solution Generation Software for Computer-aided Instruction in Elementary Linear Circuit Analysis

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2012 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


San Antonio, Texas

Publication Date

June 10, 2012

Start Date

June 10, 2012

End Date

June 13, 2012



Conference Session

NSF Grantees' Poster Session

Tagged Topic

NSF Grantees Poster Session

Page Count


Page Numbers

25.242.1 - 25.242.19

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Paper Authors

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Charles David Whitlatch Arizona State University

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Qiao Wang Arizona State University


Brian J. Skromme Arizona State University

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Brian Skromme obtained a B.S. degree in electrical engineering with high honors from the University of Wisconsin, Madison and M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in electrical engineering from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. He was a member of technical staff at Bellcore from 1985-1989 when he joined Arizona State University. He is currently professor in the School of Electrical, Computer, and Energy Engineering and Assistant Dean in Academic and Student Affairs. He has more than 120 refereed publications in solid state electronics and is active in freshman retention, computer-aided instruction, curriculum, and academic integrity activities, as well as teaching and research.

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Automated Problem and Solution Generation Software for Computer-Aided Instruction in Elementary Linear Circuit Analysis Linear circuit analysis is very widely taught to engineering students and frequently posessignificant challenges for student retention and success. Conventional lecture-based instructionallows limited flexibility in the pace and level of the presentation, even when active learningstrategies are employed. Computer-aided instruction offers the potential to customize thelearning experience for individual students according to their needs and aptitudes, provide rapidfeedback on exercises, and explore and compare a variety of instructional approaches.Moreover, it could be used to give the instructor feedback on areas that need to be emphasized orde-emphasized in class. Existing software systems typically offer a limited bank of manuallypre-generated problems where usually only component values can be varied for each student.The accepted forms of input are often limited to numerical answers or only occasionallyequations. Such systems have limited “bandwidth” in assessing student knowledge and skills.Our novel approach involves automated generation of problems where both circuit topologiesand component values are randomly and automatically generated based on desired specifications,along with fully worked solutions that use typical textbook methods as opposed to the modifiednodal analysis used in programs such as PSPICE. Our software will accept student input in theform of re-drawn circuit diagrams (edited through a graphical user interface), waveform sketches(using a special type of drawing interface), equations, and numerical values or matrices,automatically assessing the correctness of each. This software can be used via a flexible high-level interface to generate sets of problems for homework, quizzes, active learning exercises,exams, and even textbooks as well as an unlimited number of fully-worked, error-free examples.It will be integrated into tutorial software that uses pre-written scripts to teach each of the typicalanalysis techniques in both DC, AC, transient, and Laplace domains using a careful step-by-stepapproach. The tutorial software will adapt to the needs of individual students and also providedetailed feedback to instructors. Importantly, we will include special, nontraditional types ofproblems designed to address typical student “bugs” or misconceptions about electricity andcircuit analysis, based on our own experience and the extensive literature on this subject.Formative and summative assessment will be performed by an independent, experienced expertevaluator who specializes in computer-aided learning systems. Embedded assessment usingusage log data as well as exams, quizzes, concept inventories, and comparable algorithmichomework exercises and will be used to compare students in traditional sections to those usingthe tutorial software, along with surveys and focus groups to assess student and instructorsatisfaction. In this paper we will describe the underlying algorithms, architecture, features, and initialdesign of our problem and solution generation engine and demonstrate the operation of theworking prototype developed to date. Examples of the tutorial scripts we are writing andcorresponding learning objectives and assessment rubrics will be presented. Some of the novelproblem types will be discussed, such as problems where students are required to identify sets ofelements that are in series or parallel with each other in a complex circuit.Figure 1. Example of an automatically generated circuit diagram, node equations, correspondingmatrix equation, and numerical solution. More sophisticated formatting will be used in laterversions and other types of analysis will be added.Fig. 2. Two tabs of the prototype problem generation user interface. Users (e.g., instructors) canspecify the numbers of components, nodes, and meshes (as long as these are compatible), thenumbers of independent and dependent sources, the number of reactive elements, and the size ofthe grid on which circuits are generated. Features of this initial version include optionallycoloring each node a different color, drawing arrows to label all currents leaving a selected nodeor supernode, selecting different nodes as ground, highlighting component groups in red that arein series or parallel, and an interactive exercise (“game”) that challenges students to identifyelements in series or parallel.

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