Salt Lake City, Utah
June 23, 2018
June 23, 2018
July 27, 2018
Electrical and Computer
Student motivation is critical to learning and program retention in engineering, yet most introductory circuits classes present the material in an abstract manner that does little to inspire students. In Stanford's introductory circuits course, 58% of the students are not electrical engineering majors, and generally have little intrinsic motivation for learning circuits, since it is not their chosen field. Another 39% are undeclared, and using the course to get a feel for electrical engineering as a whole.
Our traditional linear circuits class covers Kirchhoff’s laws, nodal analysis, Thévenin/Norton, first-order response in the time domain for RL and RC circuits, op-amps, and phasors. Although this provides an important foundation for electrical engineers, it is not neither helpful nor interesting to non-majors who will not take further circuits classes. Moreover, it conveys a very narrow view of EE for those scouting out the major.
Four years ago, we completely redesigned our introductory circuits class to address these shortcomings. The new course is focused around a sequence of fun and practical lab projects, where students use what they are learning to build complete devices: a solar-powered cell phone charger, a trick box which turns itself off, an audio-controlled LED cube, and an electrocardiogram. The lectures explain the material just in time for each lab, beginning with linear circuits, but quickly detouring to explore diodes, solar cells, transistors, digital logic, and a bit of microcontroller programming. We return to linear circuits after introducing the frequency domain, and discuss filters and amplifiers.
We explicitly teach students techniques for building physical circuits and devices, and labs are graded for quality of design and construction in addition to electrical functionality. This broader range of theoretical topics and practical skills provides students (especially non-majors) with a more powerful toolbox for building useful circuits. Realistic applications are further emphasized through the homework, exams, and a series of in-class "breaking breaks".
There were several positive results after introducing the new course. We experienced a large demographic shift in the course, with students taking the class earlier in their career and before declaring a major. Student evaluations of the labs have been consistently positive, and a handful of students specifically cited the course as their reason for choosing to major in electrical engineering.
Bell, S., & Horowitz, M. (2018, June), Rethinking Non-major Circuits Pedagogy for Improved Motivation Paper presented at 2018 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Salt Lake City, Utah. https://peer.asee.org/30936
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