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Changing The Mindset: The Lecturer’s Responsibility When Presenting A First Year Course.

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2010 Annual Conference & Exposition


Louisville, Kentucky

Publication Date

June 20, 2010

Start Date

June 20, 2010

End Date

June 23, 2010



Conference Session

Innovations in ECE Education

Tagged Division

Electrical and Computer

Page Count


Page Numbers

15.275.1 - 15.275.8

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Paper Authors


George Gibbon University of The Witwatersrand

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George Gibbon obtained a National Diploma in 1973 and was awarded an MSc(Eng) in 1990 and a PhD in 1995 by the University of the Witwatersrand. Before joining Wits in 1986 he worked at S A Philips (now Philips South Africa) from 1971 to 1974, and the Chamber of Mines Research Laboratories (1974-1986) where he was responsible for the design and development of instrumentation for seismic, rock mechanic and sequential blasting research. His research interests include measurement systems, marine electromagnetic radiation and its influence on sharks, and engineering education.

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Ian Jandrell University of the Witwatersrand

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

Changing the Mindset: The Lecturer’s Responsibility when Presenting a First Year Course.


Students entering tertiary education are coming from a predominantly procedural learning (rote) background and are unprepared to perform in a predominantly conceptual thinking (relationship between items of knowledge) environment. Since 2004 changes have been implemented in the Electric Circuits course to develop both conceptual and critical thinking. This has resulted in an increased pass rate for the course. However, analysis of the exam papers and second year success revealed that the student’s were optimizing their success by leaving out sections of the work that they regarded as “difficult”. As all the sections are the essential basic knowledge required for the second year courses the course and the final exam was divided into four topics all of which must be passed to pass the course. Initial results indicate that many students have changed their preparation process to comply with the new rules.


Students entering tertiary education are coming from a predominantly procedural learning background and are unprepared to perform in a predominantly conceptual thinking engineering education environment. The definitions of procedural and conceptual learning, in terms of engineering education, are best described by McCormick1. Procedural knowledge is defined as “know how to do it” knowledge, best mastered by rote learning, while conceptual knowledge “is the relationship between ‘items’ of knowledge”. This inability to think and learn conceptually is not always apparent in the first year at university, as the courses are presented at the introductory level of basic concepts and “language”, and the students can still achieve success by applying their well developed rote learning skills.

Since 2004 changes have been implemented in the Electric Circuits course, one of two engineering courses in first year, to develop conceptual and critical thinking in our first year students. Our students come from diverse secondary school backgrounds; some are well resourced while others are almost hopelessly under resourced in terms of facilities, teaching materials and teaching staff. Many of the students are also studying engineering for reasons that do not include an interest in, or an aptitude for, engineering. Some of the reasons are the availability of scholarships and bursaries to study engineering, parental pressure and future financial security after obtaining an engineering degree.

In 2004 the changes included extending the course over two semesters, adding a critical thinking component and changing the laboratory concepts. In 2005 formal tutorials were dropped and self-learning concept in the laboratories was extended. Developing a “global” learning approach by integrating the laboratory tasks with the lectures was introduced in 2007. In 2009 the requirement for the students to pass all topics in the course to pass the course, and not just an aggregate mark, was introduced.

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