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Recent Progress in Step-Based Tutoring for Linear Circuit Analysis Courses

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2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Seattle, Washington

Publication Date

June 14, 2015

Start Date

June 14, 2015

End Date

June 17, 2015





Conference Session

NSF Grantees’ Poster Session

Tagged Topic

NSF Grantees Poster Session

Page Count


Page Numbers

26.1311.1 - 26.1311.16



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Paper Authors


Brian J Skromme Arizona State University

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Dr. Brian J. Skromme is a professor in the School of Electrical, Computer, and Energy Engineering and is assistant dean of the Fulton Schools of Engineering at Arizona State University. He holds a Ph.D. in electrical engineering from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and was a member of technical staff at Bellcore from 1985 to 1989. His research interests are in engineering education, development of educational software, and compound semiconductor materials and devices.

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Paul Rayes Arizona State University

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Brian McNamara Arizona State University


Xiaoxuan Wang Arizona State University

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Master Student in Electrical Engineering

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Yih-Fang Huang University of Notre Dame

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Dr. Yih-Fang Huang is Professor of Electrical Engineering and Senior Associate Dean for Education and Undergraduate Programs in the College of Engineering. He received his B.S.E.E. degree from National Taiwan University, M.S.E.E. degree from University of Notre Dame, M.A. and Ph.D. from Princeton University. He served as chair of Notre Dame’s Electrical Engineering department from 1998 to 2006. His research work employs principles in mathematical statistics to solve signal detection and estimation problems that arise in various applications that include wireless communications, distributed sensor networks and, more recently, smart electric power grid.

Dr. Huang is a Fellow of the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE) (’95). He received the Golden Jubilee Medal of the IEEE Circuits and Systems Society in 1999, served as Vice President in 1997-98 and was a Distinguished Lecturer for the same society in 2000-2001. At the University of Notre Dame, he received Presidential Award in 2003, the Electrical Engineering department’s Outstanding Teacher Award in 1994 and in 2011, the Rev. Edmund P. Joyce, CSC Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching in 2011, and the Engineering College’s Outstanding Teacher of the Year Award in 2013.

In Spring 1993, Dr. Huang received the Toshiba Fellowship and was Toshiba Visiting Professor at Waseda University, Tokyo, Japan. From April to July 2007, he was a visiting professor at the Munich University of Technology, Germany. In Fall, 2007, Dr. Huang was awarded the Fulbright-Nokia scholarship for lectures/research at Helsinki University of Technology in Finland.

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Daniel H. Robinson Colorado State University

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Dan Robinson is a Professor in the School of Education at Colorado State University. He received his Ph.D. in Educational Psychology in 1993 from the University of Nebraska where he majored in both learning/cognition and statistics/research. He has taught at Mississippi State University (1993-1997), the University of South Dakota (1997-1998), the University of Louisville (1998-1999), and the University of Texas (1999-2012).

Dr. Robinson serves as the editor of Educational Psychology Review and Associate Editor of the Journal of Educational Psychology. Dr. Robinson has served as an editorial board member of nine refereed international journals: American Educational Research Journal, Contemporary Educational Psychology, Educational Technology, Research, & Development, Journal of Behavioral Education, Journal of Educational Psychology, Journal of Experimental Education, Reading Research and Instruction, Research in the Schools, and The Open Education Journal.

He has published over 100 articles, books, and book chapters, presented over 100 papers at research conferences, and taught over 100 college courses. His research interests include educational technology innovations that may facilitate learning, team-based approaches to learning, and examining trends in articles published in various educational journals and societies. He was a Visiting Fulbright Scholar, Victoria University, Wellington, New Zealand and was named as one of the most published authors in educational psychology journals from 1991-1996, 1997-2002, 1991-2002, and 2003-2008, Contemporary Educational Psychology, 1998, 2004, 2010.

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Xiang Gao Arizona State University

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Theodore Thompson

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Recent Progress in Step-Based Tutoring for Linear Circuit Analysis CoursesWe describe recent advances in a step-based tutoring system for teaching elementary linear circuitanalysis. The system, called Circuit Tutor, features automatic generation of textbook-likeproblems whose topology and element values are both selected randomly. Every student thereforeworks completely different (but similar) problems, and has access to an unlimited supply ofproblems and worked examples. Solutions to these problems are generated using the analyticalmethods typically taught in introductory classes, rather than the numerical approaches used insoftware like PSPICE. The system accepts and evaluates each step in a student’s work, includingre-drawn circuit diagrams (entered using a special circuit drawing and editing interface), equations(using a special template-based input system), simplified and matrix equations, waveform sketches(using a web-based graphical input system), numerical answers, etc. If a student enters an incorrectanswer at any step, they are provided with a detailed explanation of why the answer is incorrect,shown the correct solution, and then given a new problem of the same type and difficulty. Thesystem guarantees mastery learning of each topic, but does not penalize students for wronganswers. This approach helps build student confidence and leads to high levels of satisfaction withthe system. All student activity in the system is logged to a central server, and instructors canaccess a web-based interface that shows progress and activity.Previously, the system featured three tutorials, which instructed students in identifying series andparallel elements, and in writing (but not solving) DC node and mesh equations, includingsupernodes, supermeshes, and dependent sources. As of Fall 2014, the system has been expandedto a total of 14 tutorials, providing significantly expanded coverage of the course material. Thenew tutorials include identification of series and parallel elements in the presence of terminals(which may be used to measure voltage, connect an arbitrary subcircuit, or to “view” an inputresistance or impedance); steady-state AC (phasor) versions of the node and mesh equationtutorials; tutorials in which DC or AC circuits are fully solved for one or more desired voltages,currents, and/or powers, including formulation of the problem as simplified equations in standardform and then as a matrix equation; tutorials that teach students to combine resistors, inductors,capacitors, and impedances in series and parallel, including complicated multi-stepsimplifications; and a tutorial that asks students to draw the current or voltage for a capacitor orinductor, given the opposite quantity, using a web-based sketching interface. Additional tutorialsnow in development include the mathematical aspects of Laplace transforms and the sketching ofBode plots from system transfer functions (and vice versa). Additional solution methods are alsobeing developed to support all aspects of DC and AC circuit analysis. Initial results from alaboratory-based study showed a statistically significant 1.21 standard deviation improvement instudent performance compared to normal textbook-based homework. Results of additionalevaluation experiments being performed in Fall 2014 at multiple institutions will be reported. Thesoftware has been used by over 1290 students at four different universities and some communitycolleges.Fig. 1. Screen shot of the new AC node solution tutorial, where students go through the completeprocess of solving for a desired quantity(ies) using node analysis. The student has alreadyentered the node equations and sought variable equations successfully (printed on the screen),and is now being asked to convert the equations to standard form so they can be put in matrixform in the next step (not shown).

Skromme, B. J., & Rayes, P., & McNamara, B., & Wang, X., & Huang, Y., & Robinson, D. H., & Gao, X., & Thompson, T. (2015, June), Recent Progress in Step-Based Tutoring for Linear Circuit Analysis Courses Paper presented at 2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Seattle, Washington. 10.18260/p.24648

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