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Circuit Simulators And Computer Algebra An Integrated Curriculum For Electronics Students

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1996 Annual Conference


Washington, District of Columbia

Publication Date

June 23, 1996

Start Date

June 23, 1996

End Date

June 26, 1996



Page Count


Page Numbers

1.100.1 - 1.100.6



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Paper Authors

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Richard Parker

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Walter Buchanan

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Session 1658

Circuit Simulators and Computer Algebra - An Integrated Curriculum for Electronics Students

Richard Parker, Walter Buchanan Seneca College/ Middle Tennessee State University


There has been increasing acceptance of the use of electronics circuit simulators as part of the first year college curriculum in electronics. These simulators assist in providing a richer class of circuits which can profitably be studied by beginning students. However, they may burden the student with a need to apply the algebra of circuit analysis to more complex circuits than the traditional curriculum. The need is to apply mathematical models (for example, simultaneous equations) to various example circuits in DC and AC circuit analysis. The authors describe a teaching strategy and a curriculum model which uses a circuit simulator to work with circuits as if they had laboratory test instruments available, giving the flavor of a real laboratory, and mathematics software which permits students to interact with mathematical solutions to obtain graphical, numerical and symbolic results. Such a curriculum brings the mathematics of circuit analysis into the same framework of interactive discovery as the rest of the electronics subjects.


There were two main reasons for changing the curriculum. One was a push, the other was pull. First, let us look at the push. Teachers have been reporting increasing difficulty in teaching the necessary concepts in the first semester curriculum. The difficulty goes beyond the frequently mentioned lack of skill sets in mathematics and language arts and centers on the mental processes best described as transformational conceptualization. Students find it increasingly difficult to build mental models. One reason, of course, is that the required models are always increasingly more complex. To compensate for this deficiency and to attempt to bring to technical education a firmer, more concrete syllabus, the lecture room and the laboratory environment must be redesigned to encourage the teacher to pause at any time and ask the students to prove a point for themselves by using the lab stations at which they are sitting. This allows students who are kinesthetic learners (those who learn by doing), the opportunity to learn at the same time as the oral learners.

The pull comes from the fact that powerful computer simulation software, designed initially in the sixties, is now available to run on garden variety personal computers. The user interface has been improved to the point that first year students with little or no prior experience with computers can easily run these packages with only short orientation sessions. Since we have used electronics simulators in our upper semester technology classes for many years with good success, we were confident that such an approach could work with beginning students if carefully introduced.

We have chosen Electronics Workbench for electronics and Maple for computer algebra. Electronics Workbench’ is a simulator which employs point, click, and drag technology in its user interface. Very little comes between the student and the problem which is extraneous. It is easy to choose circuit elements and to

{fix~~ 1996 ASEE Annual Conference Proceedings ‘.,+,yyy!

Parker, R., & Buchanan, W. (1996, June), Circuit Simulators And Computer Algebra An Integrated Curriculum For Electronics Students Paper presented at 1996 Annual Conference, Washington, District of Columbia. 10.18260/1-2--5913

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