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In Class Circuits: Using Passive Components To Create Active Learning

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2008 Annual Conference & Exposition


Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Publication Date

June 22, 2008

Start Date

June 22, 2008

End Date

June 25, 2008



Conference Session

Electrical Engineering Technology Design Projects & Curriculum

Tagged Division

Engineering Technology

Page Count


Page Numbers

13.722.1 - 13.722.11



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Paper Authors


Alan Niemi LeTourneau University

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Alan D. Niemi is an Associate Professor and Chair of Engineering Technology at LeTourneau University. He received his B.S. in Electrical Engineering Technology from Lake Superior State University and his M.S.E.E. from Illinois Institute of Technology. He has taught courses in Electrical Engineering and Technology for 21 years. In addition to teaching, Mr. Niemi has spent 7 years in industry designing digital and microcontroller systems.

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

In-Class Circuits: Using Passive Components to Create Active Learning


DC Electricity is the first math-based engineering technology course taken by all of our incoming engineering technology students. As such, it tends to be a course with high “drop-out” rates and also high failure rates for those that do complete it. Success in this course is paramount to a student’s progress into subsequent electrical courses such as AC Electricity and Digital Electronics – both taken by all of our engineering technology students. Experience has shown that most students who drop DC Electricity the first time they take it, do not continue on in the engineering technology program, but change majors or drop out of college entirely. Therefore, fostering success in DC Electricity is critical.

After teaching the DC Electricity lecture course for two years with an average “drop” rate of 38%, and with only 55% of those students initially enrolled actually passing, the author decided that some changes were in order. Three changes were made to the DC lecture course, while the co-requisite DC lab course remained unaltered. First of all, homework was collected daily rather than weekly, in order to motivate students to keep up to date with the material. Secondly, an “attention” quiz was given at the end of each class period to encourage students to take good lecture notes, and as a means of immediate instructor feedback. Finally, and most significantly according to student surveys, the lecture was modified to include a daily “in-class” circuit, in which the entire classroom would take on the topology of one large circuit. The students were given component kits with long jumper wires, and would become part of the circuit that had just been analyzed on the board. Meters were passed around, measurements were taken, and results were compared with the theoretical calculations. Active learning was achieved.

After the trial run last spring, the results look promising. More than two-thirds of the class indicated that the in-class circuits significantly helped them to understand the circuit operation, and analysis techniques that were being discussed on a given day. The course drop rate was reduced to 7%, and the pass rate was increased to 73%.

The implementation and effects of these in-class circuits are the focus of this paper. The author will provide details regarding the contents of the students’ component kits and will show detailed examples of circuits implemented in the classroom. Student survey results and course grading data will be used to examine the benefit of employing the in-class circuit as an active learning component of the passive circuit lecture.


Nearly 50% of the engineering technology students taking our freshman DC Electricity course either drop or fail it. Few retake the course. Most who fail it change majors, and some drop out of college entirely. Although this attrition rate may be in line with engineering programs in general1, in the spring of 2007, the author decided to make some improvements to the course - not by changing the content, but by changing the instructional methods used in the course.

Niemi, A. (2008, June), In Class Circuits: Using Passive Components To Create Active Learning Paper presented at 2008 Annual Conference & Exposition, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. 10.18260/1-2--3136

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