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The Use of SPICE Simulation to Promote Reflection and Metacognition in a Microelectronics Course

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2018 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Salt Lake City, Utah

Publication Date

June 23, 2018

Start Date

June 23, 2018

End Date

July 27, 2018

Conference Session

Electrical and Computer Division Technical Session 2

Tagged Division

Electrical and Computer

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Paper Authors


Renee M. Clark University of Pittsburgh

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Renee M. Clark serves as research assistant professor focusing on assessment and evaluation within the University of Pittsburgh's Swanson School of Engineering and its Engineering Education Research Center (EERC), where her interests center on active and experiential learning. She has 25 years of experience as an engineer and analyst, having worked most recently for Walgreens and General Motors/Delphi Automotive in the areas of data analysis, IT, and manufacturing. She received her PhD in Industrial Engineering from the University of Pittsburgh and her MS in Mechanical Engineering from Case Western while working for Delphi. She completed her postdoctoral studies in engineering education at the University of Pittsburgh.

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Samuel J. Dickerson University of Pittsburgh Orcid 16x16

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Dr. Samuel Dickerson is an assistant professor at the University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering. His general research interests lie in the area of electronics, circuits and embedded systems and in particular, technologies in those areas that have biomedical applications. He has expertise in the design and simulation of mixed-signal integrated circuits and systems that incorporate the use of both digital and analog electronics, as well as optics, microfluidics and devices that interface to the biological world. Prior to joining the University of Pittsburgh faculty he was a co-founder and the president of Nanophoretics LLC, where he led the research and development of a novel dielectrophoresis-based lab-on-chip technology for rapidly detecting drug-resistant bacteria strains. Dr. Dickerson is also interested in enhancing undergraduate engineering education, and investigates new and innovative methods for improving the learning experience for electrical and computer engineering students.

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Several theories, including Experiential Learning Theory, describe the importance of reflection for learning, and a host of articles have called for additional research on reflection in engineering education. Ambrose has called for engineering curricula with “opportunities for reflection to connect thinking and doing,” since students learn by doing but only when they reflect on the doing too. Regular reflection plays a critical role in the construction of metacognitive knowledge and self-regulatory skills, which includes monitoring and evaluating one’s own learning, knowledge, and skills. Unfortunately, the development of metacognitive skills is often not formally included within curriculums. However, simple in-class active learning exercises, such as think-pair-share or minute papers, as well as post-exam analysis by students, can promote reflection and metacognition. In a microelectronics course, we recently incorporated post-exam reflective exercises using SPICE simulation tools to guide students’ reflections on errors made and strategies to improve future performance. The instructor was inspired to use this approach after learning of its use in an introductory circuits course. In the circuits course, the instructors had used a reflective approach known as Exam Analysis and Reflection (EAR), which had previously been developed for mechanical engineering courses. In the microelectronics course, we preliminarily incorporated reflective exercises after two exams and applied the EAR with the second. After the first exam, students used the simulator to correct any errors, which introduced them to using simulation for reflection. With the second exam, which was a small quiz, a similar procedure was followed, in which students used the simulator to reconstruct the amplifier circuit on the exam. Thus, students used the simulator to “re-do” the quiz to determine the simulated values, with the goal of having students recognize and question any differences, which could have resulted from calculation errors or natural differences between simulation and hand calculations, among other reasons. Students were then asked to reflect on the following questions from the EAR approach: “How is my exam result different from the simulated result?“, “What went wrong with my solution?”, and “How can I use this to improve my performance in the future?” To assess the impact of using simulation to reflect on their exams, we interviewed students as well as directly assessed their performance. Students were given a final exam problem that was very similar to the quiz problem where they applied the EAR approach. We compared the results from this final exam problem to those from the prior year (without reflection), in which the final exam was the same. We also determined the correlation between the quality of students’ reflections and their performance on this final exam problem. We assessed the quality and depth of the reflections using a four-category rubric from the published literature. The preliminary results have been promising, showing evidence of students’ appreciation of the reflective approach in their interviews and depth in their EAR responses. The interview data also highlighted lessons on improving our initial implementation of simulation for this type of reflection and comparison.

Clark, R. M., & Dickerson, S. J. (2018, June), The Use of SPICE Simulation to Promote Reflection and Metacognition in a Microelectronics Course Paper presented at 2018 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Salt Lake City, Utah. 10.18260/1-2--31133

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