June 14, 2009
June 14, 2009
June 17, 2009
Electrical and Computer
14.673.1 - 14.673.15
How much do they really understand? An entry-level test for electricity and electromagnetics
First-year engineering numbers have grown considerably over the last decade, and there has been an even greater increase in student diversity. In order to support these students effectively, and to ensure the courses they take remain appropriate, the academic preparedness of these students must be determined. For these reasons, the lecturers in the year-one engineering course Electrical and Digital Systems introduced in 2007 a short diagnostic test at the start of their course to determine the level of understanding of electricity and electromagnetics possessed by the incoming students. This paper presents and discusses the main student misconceptions revealed by the diagnostic test and subsequent investigations, and notes some compelling matches with international research findings.
Globally, industry demands an increasing number of engineering graduates. However, the number of high-school students well prepared for studying engineering at university level is shrinking in many countries. Therefore, if freshman engineering numbers are to grow, much of the growth is likely to come from students with lower achievement levels. In order to support these students effectively, and to ensure the courses they take remain appropriate, the academic preparedness of these students must be determined. However, recent changes to the way New Zealand conducts its national examinations have made this more difficult. For example, in the past all students who chose to study physics were required to study a full physics course. Now, the more modular nature of the national examinations enables students to present for examination only some aspects of the physics curriculum while ignoring others. In particular, students could choose not to present the module on electrical systems for examination. In fact, it is now possible for students to enrol in a high-school physics course that contains no electricity content at all.
ELECTENG 101, Electrical and Digital Systems, is part of a compulsory common program for all freshman engineering students at the University of Auckland. Typically 600 students enrol in this course each year, but only about one quarter of them subsequently pursue a degree in electrical and computer engineering. Clearly, many of the students enrolled in ELECTENG 101 may have no particular interest in matters of an electrical nature, and may even have chosen not to study this aspect of physics at high school.
For the reasons outlined above, the lecturers in ELECTENG 101 judged it necessary to introduce a short diagnostic test at the start of their course. Their intention in doing this was to determine the level of understanding of electricity and electromagnetics possessed by the incoming students, and consequently to modify where necessary the course content and its delivery in order to provide the best learning opportunities for the students. It was considered that the test results would identify those students for whom remedial interventions were desirable, and would also indicate the extent and nature of those remedial interventions.
The test was first administered in 2007, and the lecturers were greatly surprised by the extent of the student misconceptions in electricity and electromagnetics that it revealed. The test was administered again in 2008, and the results reinforced those obtained the previous year.
Smaill, C., & Rowe, G., & Godfrey, E. (2009, June), How Much Do They Really Understand? An Entry Level Test On Electricity And Electromagnetics Paper presented at 2009 Annual Conference & Exposition, Austin, Texas. 10.18260/1-2--5086
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