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Conceptual Understanding of Electrical Phenomena: Patterns of Error in Senior Electrical Engineering Students' Problem Solving

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Conference

2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition

Location

Vancouver, BC

Publication Date

June 26, 2011

Start Date

June 26, 2011

End Date

June 29, 2011

ISSN

2153-5965

Conference Session

Modeling and Problem-Solving

Tagged Division

Educational Research and Methods

Page Count

9

Page Numbers

22.369.1 - 22.369.9

Permanent URL

https://peer.asee.org/17650

Download Count

18

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Paper Authors

biography

Mark T. Carnes Purdue University, West Lafayette

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Mark Carnes is a licensed Professional Engineer (PE) and is currently a doctoral student and a future faculty fellow in the School of Engineering Education at Purdue University. Before coming to Purdue, he spent over 30 years as an electronics designer of control and power conversion circuits. He received an M.S. from the University of Michigan (1982) and a B.S. from the University of Notre Dame (1975), both in Electrical Engineering.

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biography

Ruth A. Streveler Purdue University, West Lafayette

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Ruth A. Streveler is an Assistant Professor in the School of Engineering Education at Purdue University. Before coming to Purdue she spent 12 years at Colorado School of Mines, where she was the founding Director of the Center for Engineering Education. Dr. Streveler earned a B.A. in Biology from Indiana University, Bloomington, M.S. in Zoology from the Ohio State University, and Ph.D. in Educational Psychology from the University of Hawaii, Manoa. Her primary research interests are investigating students’ understanding of difficult concepts in engineering science and helping engineering faculty conduct rigorous research in engineering education.

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Abstract

Conceptual Understanding of Electrical Phenomena: Patterns of Error in Senior Electrical Engineering Students Problem SolvingThis paper describes a study that investigates electrical engineering students’ understanding offundamental concepts in their discipline. Five students were asked to think aloud as theyattempted to solve several simple problems involving concepts in low voltage electrical circuits.Participants’ solutions were analyzed using two conceptual frameworks. The first framework,mental modeling, identified the types of models that the students used to understand and explainelectrical phenomena: mathematical models, physical models, or analogies. The students’overwhelming choice in solving the problems was to look for an equation that they could applyto the situation. Very little attention was paid to the physical principles on which a solutionshould be based. The second framework was novice-expert differences in problemcategorization. Students tended to make the novice mistake of determining the problem typebased on the structure of the problem, rather than on the concepts involved. Having thus chosenthe wrong path, they tended to continue along it without recognizing their error and looking for abetter alternative. Fewer than 20% of the problems attempted were solved correctly. This raisesthe question of how well students are really learning the fundamental concepts needed to be ableto address and solve problems in the discipline of electrical engineering. There is a widespreadand pervasive belief that the proper way to teach basic electric circuits is by equationmanipulation, essentially mathematical modeling. The heavy reliance of the students in thisstudy on mathematical equations without well developed conceptual models of the physicalphenomena involved raises serious concerns about the effectiveness of this method of teaching.

Carnes, M. T., & Streveler, R. A. (2011, June), Conceptual Understanding of Electrical Phenomena: Patterns of Error in Senior Electrical Engineering Students' Problem Solving Paper presented at 2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Vancouver, BC. https://peer.asee.org/17650

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