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Teaching First-order Systems to Electrical Engineering Students Using Visual and Intuitive Examples

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2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access


Virtual Conference

Publication Date

July 26, 2021

Start Date

July 26, 2021

End Date

July 19, 2022

Conference Session

Electrical and Computer Division Technical Session 7

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Electrical and Computer

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Paper Authors


Daniel Raviv Florida Atlantic University

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Dr. Raviv is a Professor of Computer & Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at Florida Atlantic University. In December 2009 he was named Assistant Provost for Innovation and Entrepreneurship.

With more than 30 years of combined experience in the high-tech industry, government and academia Dr. Raviv developed fundamentally different approaches to “out-of-the-box” thinking and a breakthrough methodology known as “Eight Keys to Innovation.” He has been sharing his contributions with professionals in businesses, academia and institutes nationally and internationally. He was a visiting professor at the University of Maryland (at Mtech, Maryland Technology Enterprise Institute) and at Johns Hopkins University (at the Center for Leadership Education) where he researched and delivered processes for creative & innovative problem solving.

For his unique contributions he received the prestigious Distinguished Teacher of the Year Award, the Faculty Talon Award, the University Researcher of the Year AEA Abacus Award, and the President’s Leadership Award. Dr. Raviv has published in the areas of vision-based driver-less cars, innovative thinking, and teaching innovatively. He is a co-holder of a Guinness World Record. He is a co-author of five books on innovative thinking and teaching innovatively.

Dr. Daniel Raviv received his Ph.D. degree from Case Western Reserve University in 1987 and M.Sc. and B.Sc. degrees from the Technion, Israel Institute of Technology in 1982 and 1980, respectively.

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Daniel Ryan Barb

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Daniel Barb is a Nuclear Engineer for PSEG. He spent six years in the United States Navy working in a nuclear power plant aboard a fast attack submarine and earned his BSME from Florida Atlantic University.

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George Roskovich Florida Atlantic University

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Teaching first order systems to Electrical Engineering students using visual and intuitive examples

Abstract First order differential equations is a topic that is prevalent in mathematics and is foundational to several engineering classes. Electrical engineering specifically is a field where understanding first order systems is crucial; it is a cornerstone of topics such as transient electrical systems including RC and RL circuits. Despite this, many students struggle with conceptual understanding of this subject. The equations and mathematics can be overwhelming and frustrating, in part because it is often hard to visualize the concept.

Today’s students have plenty of distractions at their fingertips. Especially in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has resulted in more online-learning, students will oftentimes browse the internet or pull out their phones if they begin feeling bored or frustrated with a topic. Simply put, today’s students learn differently – more intuitively and with shorter attention spans – and lessons should compensate for this with presentation methods that are clear, visual, and intuitive.

The primary focus of this work is to help teachers explain, and learners to understand, the fundamental concepts of first order differential equations through the use of intuitive and example-based approaches as they relate primarily to electrical engineering. This paper seeks to simplify the introduction to the topic of first order differential equations into something that is clear and easy to comprehend. To accomplish this, the paper starts with a visual background of first order systems and an explanation of exponential growth vs. exponential decay. It then moves into (1) electrical examples, including the charging rate a cell phone and the idea of transient response in electrical systems such as RC and RL circuits, (2) electromechanical examples, including DC motors and heat transfer rates of different types of stoves, (3) various topics from other STEM disciplines, such as vehicle accelerations (dynamics), diffusion (physics), and currency depletion (economics). The paper concludes with a related brain teaser.

The goal of this approach is to provide students with examples that translate textbook explanations to real life and help in understanding the material. We believe that when using these intuitive examples students tend to better understand first order systems, especially as they relate to the field of electrical engineering. This paper should be considered a work in progress. The presented information is meant to be supplemental in nature and not to replace existing textbooks or other teaching and learning methodologies. This intuitive and engaging approach to teaching and learning has been tested in the past for many topics including Control Systems, Digital Signal Processing, Computer Algorithms, Statics, Thermodynamics, Calculus, Statistics, and Newton’s Laws of Motion. In all of these cases, students highly praised the approach and found it to be very effective for learning.

Raviv, D., & Barb, D. R., & Roskovich, G. (2021, July), Teaching First-order Systems to Electrical Engineering Students Using Visual and Intuitive Examples Paper presented at 2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual Conference. 10.18260/1-2--37811

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