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Linking Students’ Interest in Electrical Engineering to their Conceptual Understanding

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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

NSF Grantees Poster Session

Tagged Topic

NSF Grantees

Page Count


Page Numbers

22.1018.1 - 22.1018.10



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Paper Authors

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Margret Hjalmarson George Mason University

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Jill K. Nelson George Mason University

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Linking Students’ Interest in Electrical Engineering to their Conceptual UnderstandingBackground and MotivationSignificant emphasis has been placed on understanding what factors impact students’ decisionto pursue engineering majors and their persistence in the field. The broader goal of our NSF-funded study is to better understand if and how students’ interest in the field of electricalengineering is linked to their conceptual understanding of engineering material. In the workdiscussed here, we examine the relationship between students’ course and concept inventoryperformance and their reasons for studying engineering and experiences in the engineeringcoursework.MethodsThe course under investigation is the second of two required courses in signals and systemsand focuses on discrete-time signals and systems. Thirty-five students agreed to participate inthe study. Exam and final course grades were collected for all students who participated.Additionally, students’ performance on the Signals and Systems Concept Inventory (SSCI),which was administered at the beginning and the end of the course. Six students from thecourse participated in individual semi-structured interviews during which they answered thefollowing questions:- Why did you decide to become an engineering major?- Why did you select electrical engineering specifically?- What are you planning to do when you graduate? Why?- What did you hope to learn during your engineering coursework?- What has surprised you the most about engineering?ResultsWe used the specificity of students’ reasons for entering engineering and of their career goalsfollowing engineering to gauge the intensity of their interest. Students’ responses to interviewquestions indicated that their motivation for pursuing electrical engineering typically stems fromone of two areas, which we have termed (1) tinkerer, and (2) enjoys math and science.Students also emphasized the need to understand applications of what they were learningeither to other courses or their careers as engineers.ConclusionsWhile our study focuses on electrical engineering students, there are still questions aboutengineering as a whole in terms of how students’ knowledge of the discipline relates to theirinterest in the discipline. Further research will continue to examine their understanding ofspecific topics and concepts in electrical engineering and signals and systems specifically.

Hjalmarson, M., & Nelson, J. K. (2011, June), Linking Students’ Interest in Electrical Engineering to their Conceptual Understanding Paper presented at 2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Vancouver, BC. 10.18260/1-2--18287

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