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Exploring Students’ Learning of Electric Circuits in Real-world Context

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2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access


Virtual Conference

Publication Date

July 26, 2021

Start Date

July 26, 2021

End Date

July 19, 2022

Conference Session

Electrical and Computer Division Technical Session 7

Tagged Division

Electrical and Computer

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Paper Authors


Alejandro H. Espera Jr Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University Orcid 16x16

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Alejandro is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Engineering Education at Virginia Tech and is concurrently earning credits for an M.A. degree in Data Analytics and Applied Statistics at the same institution. He is also an assistant professor with the Electronics Engineering Department at the Ateneo de Davao University, Philippines. He has a B.S. degree in Electronics Engineering from Ateneo de Davao University and an M.S. degree in Electronics Engineering from Ateneo de Manila University, Philippines. He has done and published research in the areas of additive manufacturing (3D printing) for electronics and the design of smart electronic systems. His current research interests include the design of technology-mediated learning environments in teaching electrical and electronics engineering concepts, and curricular innovations for additive and advanced manufacturing programs.

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Nicole P. Pitterson Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University Orcid 16x16

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Nicole is an assistant professor in the Department of Engineering Education at Virginia Tech. Prior to joining VT, Dr. Pitterson was a postdoctoral scholar at Oregon State University. She holds a PhD in Engineering Education from Purdue University and other degrees in Manufacturing Engineering from Western Illinois University and a B.Sc. in Electrical and Electronic Engineering from the University of Technology, Jamaica. Her research interest is eliciting conceptual understanding of AC circuit concepts using active learning strategies.

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The introduction of abstract theoretical concepts in undergraduate engineering courses, such as in electric circuit analyses, has been perceived by students to be challenging due to their limited ability to verbalize their knowledge. Researchers argue that proper engineering “intellectual behavior” must be developed to the point where students become competent problem solvers with an ability to use learned skills in analogous contexts, that is, in this case, from learning electric circuit concepts to their application in real-world situations. The purpose of this study is to explore students’ ability to justify real-world electrical scenarios and determine ill-conceived circuit concepts associated with them by answering the following questions: How do students articulate their learned concepts in electric circuits? How do students use their learning of electric circuits in explaining real-world electrical phenomena? This study used a qualitative approach to inquiry. Five (5) male junior and senior electrical engineering students who had taken at least two electric circuit courses participated in this study. The participants were asked open-ended questions via think-aloud protocol to explain real-world electrical incidents. They were expected to verbalize their thought process and learning of circuit concepts. The analysis was guided by the skills aspect of the engineering habits of mind framework, where students use mental models and tools necessary to make educated choices and use approaches to thinking when solving problems in similar or new contexts. All participants generally used mental tools associated with electric circuit theory, which indicated that students use mathematical models and circuit diagrams in analyzing and explaining real-world electrical phenomena. Participants showed fair use of mental tools to support their explanation. In contrast, others showed inaccuracies in the understanding of electric circuit concepts as it relates to the physical phenomena they were presented with, which may or may not indicate a misconception. So, the findings of this study call for further investigation of potential misconceptions, which can be mitigated when the use of computational and observational skills are constantly stimulated, practiced, and integrated holistically in the instruction, especially when introductory engineering concepts are taught. We suggest that engineering practitioners and educators should also exercise the use of mental models and tools by presenting and tackling more ill-defined real-world problems so that there is a natural transference of learning and practice toward the students. This work provides an opportunity for educators, curriculum designers, and researchers in this field to innovate instructional design and create methodologies to interrogate, pinpoint, and remedy potential misconceptions, which may be largely influenced by students being unable to have a tangible outlet for which they can apply their learning of abstract and intangible engineering concepts.

Espera, A. H., & Pitterson, N. P. (2021, July), Exploring Students’ Learning of Electric Circuits in Real-world Context Paper presented at 2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual Conference.

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