June 23, 2013
June 23, 2013
June 26, 2013
Electrical and Computer
23.325.1 - 23.325.10
Conceptual Understanding and Mental Models of the Electrical Concepts of Voltage and Current Held by Senior Electrical Engineering StudentsEvery field of study has a set of domain-specific concepts that anyone who desires to work inthat field must know and understand. Most students who have obtained university degrees inengineering are presumed to have attained this knowledge. But have they? Usually, assessmentsare made by written examinations that are not able to probe very deeply into the actual mentalmodels that the students use to solve problems. Students may become quite skillful atperforming calculations, doing homework, and passing tests, but without necessarilyunderstanding the course content very deeply.The theory of mental models asserts that most people organize their knowledge of the world bythe construction of mental models of the phenomena they have experienced or concepts theyhave learned. These models are then used to assimilate new experiences or to make predictionsabout what will occur in specific situations. The construction of these models, however, is notdone consciously, so the individual is often unaware of their existence.In the field of electrical engineering, among the most fundamental concepts that students need tounderstand are voltage and current. The mental models that they have constructed of thesephenomena will play a major role in their approaches to and the solving of engineering problemsin their professional career. These models consist of multiple levels of knowledge: definitions,formulas, laws (knowing “that”); procedures (knowing “how”); concepts, cause and effectrelationships (knowing “why”); and problem solving strategies, knowing which methods to useto address a given situation (knowing “when”).To construct representations of students’ mental models, a linguistic analysis of semi-structuredinterviews was used. In this pilot study of the interview protocol and analysis method,interviews were conducted with 2 senior EE students. The intent of the interviews is to engagethe participants in a conversation concerning their knowledge and experience in applying ideasof voltage and current by discussing their experiences in learning about and designing with thethree most fundamental components of all electrical systems: resistors, capacitors, and inductors.In the discussion of these actual components, participants naturally refer to the abstract ideas ofcurrent and voltage as they relate to the components. The interview transcripts were analyzed todetermine a representation of the underlying mental model of each participant that would beconsistent with the content of their interview. Each participant’s mental model is presented as acombination of a graphical concept map accompanied by a short narrative explaining the keyelements of the model.Research that reveals the types of mental models held by senior EE students could inform thedesign of instruction for the aforementioned concepts.
Carnes, M. T., & Diefes-Dux, H. A. (2013, June), Conceptual Understanding of the Electrical Concepts of Voltage and Current: A Pilot Study of a Method to Create Representations of Students’ Mental Models Paper presented at 2013 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Atlanta, Georgia. https://peer.asee.org/19339
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