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Getting to Carnegie Hall: Novel Timed Homework Practice to Develop Basic Circuit Analysis Skills

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2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Vancouver, BC

Publication Date

June 26, 2011

Start Date

June 26, 2011

End Date

June 29, 2011



Conference Session

Teaching Circuit Theory and Electronics

Tagged Division

Electrical and Computer

Page Count


Page Numbers

22.744.1 - 22.744.8



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Paper Authors


Michelle Denise Miller Northern Arizona University

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Michelle Miller is an Associate Professor of psychology at Northern
Arizona University and the Director of the NAU Course Redesign Team, having earned a B.A. in psychology from Pomona College
and a Ph.D. in cognitive psychology from UCLA. Her specialty is
cognition and instructional technology.

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Elizabeth J. Brauer Northern Arizona University

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Elizabeth Brauer is a Professor of electrical engineering at Northern Arizona University with B.S.E.E., M.S.E.E., and Ph.D. degrees from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. Her area of expertise is microelectronics.

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John Sharber Northern Arizona University

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B.S.E.E., 1979, University of Arizona.

Currently teaching undergraduate EE and engineering design courses at Northern Arizona University.

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Getting to Carnegie Hall: Novel timed homework practice to develop basic circuitanalysis skillsUndergraduate education in electrical engineering can be improved by drawing onresearch on human learning and cognition. One main result of this research is thatfrequent practice and self-testing are effective and efficient strategies for masteringnew information. Furthermore, frequent practice promotes speed as well asaccuracy. This point is particularly relevant in the field of electrical engineering, asstudents must master core concepts (e.g., Ohm’s law) such that they can apply themquickly and effortlessly in order to efficiently solve more advanced problems. Thepresent project pilot-tested a novel technique for encouraging frequent, fast-pacedpractice among students in the first circuits course. Nineteen undergraduateengineering majors (including civil, mechanical, environmental and electrical)participated in a face-to-face course in which traditional course activities (lectures,in-class discussion, exams) were supplemented by three online homework modules.These modules differed from traditional homework assignments in the followingways: First, rather than recapping material presented in class, each module focusedexclusively on a single core concept (Ohm’s law, op-amps, or complex numbers).Second, the modules were repeatable, such that students were encouraged to submitmultiple attempts, with slightly different problems on each attempt. Third, themodules were timed, such that students received bonus points tied to how quicklythey completed their best attempt. Effectiveness of the online homework moduleswas assessed by comparing exam scores across the enhanced and traditionallytaught versions of the course, and by conducting an end-of-semester opinion survey.Results showed a statistically significant increase in in-class exam scores for theenhanced course compared to the traditional course. Average percent correct onthe first exam was 85.7% in the enhanced course, compared to 79.7% in thetraditional course, and for the second exam was 81.4% compared to 62.3% in thetraditional course. Performance on the third exam was within the acceptable range(74.7%) for the enhanced course, but differences in the exam format (in-class vs.take-home), combined with the large proportion of students not completing thethird online homework module, prevented meaningful statistical comparisons.Final exam scores were also statistically compared and showed no differencesacross the traditional (71.1%) and enhanced (70.9%) sections. Student opinion ofthe online homework modules was positive, with large majorities responding either“Strongly agree” or “Agree somewhat” to the statements that the modules helpedthem understand class material, helped them practice skills needed on exams, andwere generally useful to the class. Subsidiary analyses focused on predictors ofexam performance including number of quiz attempts, best score, best time, andlevel of academic preparation. Qualitative comments from the instructor and fromstudents were also summarized, with an overall trend toward positive impressionsof the online homework modules. Results suggest that repeatable, timed modulesfocusing on core concepts are an effective way to raise student performance andlearning.

Miller, M. D., & Brauer, E. J., & Sharber, J. (2011, June), Getting to Carnegie Hall: Novel Timed Homework Practice to Develop Basic Circuit Analysis Skills Paper presented at 2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Vancouver, BC. 10.18260/1-2--18025

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