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Learning Barriers In Service Courses A Mixed Methods Study

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2010 Annual Conference & Exposition


Louisville, Kentucky

Publication Date

June 20, 2010

Start Date

June 20, 2010

End Date

June 23, 2010



Conference Session

Educational Research & Methods Poster Session

Tagged Division

Educational Research and Methods

Page Count


Page Numbers

15.833.1 - 15.833.13



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Paper Authors

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Qaiser Malik Michigan State University

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Punya Mishra MSU

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Michael Shanblatt MSU

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

Learning Barriers in Service Courses: A Mixed- Methods Study


This paper reports the results of a longitudinal study conducted on a service course offered to non-electrical engineering majors at a large Midwestern university. The study focused on understanding the reasons why students perform relatively low in service courses. The mixed method approach was used to measure the performance in two different ways and then triangulate the results for a deeper understanding of the issue. For the quantitative phase, a closed form questionnaire was developed for the entire class that measured student attitude and their understanding of core concepts related to a specific topic. For the qualitative phase, a concept map was developed for the specific topic for one-on-one interview sessions with a representative sample. The data was collected with the two instruments for five consecutive semesters (n1=253, and n2=44). Our analyses of the data have identified some inherent flaws in the teaching methodology for service courses that contribute towards rote learning. These courses need to be made more relevant and conceptually grounded along with a refocusing of the course content. Moreover, the two instruments developed in this study may form the basis for a broader framework for the formative evaluation of engineering courses.


Interdisciplinary courses commonly known as service courses are offered by almost all engineering departments to meet the ABET’s essential program outcomes criteria 3a-3k to prepare the future engineers for a successful and productive career1, 2. These courses are primarily developed by the departments for non-major engineering students with three main objectives3: 1) to prepare the students to efficiently solve the interdisciplinary problems confronted by entry level engineers in the industry4; 2) to adequately cover the relevant portion of the syllabus for professional certification and registration; and 3) to motivate students to learn engineering concepts related to other fields by generating enough interest in the subject5, 6. The past research shows that motivating the students to learn in service courses is a challenge because most students are unable to understand the link between the knowledge acquired in the service courses and their majors7, 8.

This longitudinal study was conducted on Electronic Instrumentation and Systems (EI&S) course, a typical service course offered by the Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE) department of a large Midwestern university. The objective was to explore and understand the root causes of why students underperform in service courses. The research question formulated for the study was: “What are the learning barriers for non-major engineering students in a service course?” To seek an answer the study attempted to measure student learning in two domains of the Bloom’s taxonomy: cognitive and affective9. For the cognitive domain a specific topic of the course was chosen to gauge student learning of the core concepts. For the affective domain, student attitude towards learning in the service course was measured. For this purpose two instruments were developed: a survey questionnaire for the entire class, and a concept map assignment on the specific topic for one-on-one interview sessions with a representative sample.

Malik, Q., & Mishra, P., & Shanblatt, M. (2010, June), Learning Barriers In Service Courses A Mixed Methods Study Paper presented at 2010 Annual Conference & Exposition, Louisville, Kentucky. 10.18260/1-2--17020

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