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Use of a MOOC Platform to Blend a Linear Circuits Course for Non-Majors

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2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Indianapolis, Indiana

Publication Date

June 15, 2014

Start Date

June 15, 2014

End Date

June 18, 2014



Conference Session

ECE Distance Education

Tagged Division

Electrical and Computer

Page Count


Page Numbers

24.1304.1 - 24.1304.15

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Paper Authors


Bonnie H. Ferri Georgia Institute of Technology

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Dr. Bonnie Ferri is a Professor and the Associate Chair for Undergraduate Affairs in the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Georgia Tech. She performs research in the area of active learning, embedded computing, and hands-on education. She received the IEEE Education Society Harriet B. Rigas Award.

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David Michael Majerich Century for 21st Century Universities

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Nathan VerDon Parrish Georgia Institute of Technology


Aldo A. Ferri Georgia Institute of Technology

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Al Ferri received his BS degree in Mechanical Engineering from Lehigh University in 1981 and his PhD degree in Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering from Princeton University in 1985. Since 1985, he has been a faculty member in the School of Mechanical Engineering at Georgia Tech, where he now serves as the Associate Chair for Undergraduate Studies. His research areas are in the fields of dynamics, controls, vibrations, and acoustics. He is also active in course and curriculum development. He is a Fellow of the ASME.

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Use of a MOOC Platform to Invert a Linear Circuits Course for Non-MajorsThis abstract describes a project where a MOOC (Massively Online Open Course) wasdeveloped in order to invert a Circuits and Electronics course taught to nonmajors at a largeengineering school. Circuits courses for non-majors typically have some of the highestenrollments of any engineering course since they are required by so many majors. Viewed as“service courses” by both students and instructors, these courses are often taken grudgingly bystudents because they are required out-of-major courses and are often taught by adjunctinstructors or Graduate Teaching Assistants. Thus, they are pedagogically a challenge to teachdue to student and instructor motivation levels. The main reason that this particular MOOC was developed was for dual use: to provide afree online course on the topic of linear circuits and to provide a means to invert the linearcircuits portion of the Circuits and Electronics course for non-majors. The motivation forinverting this course was to provide consistency across sections, allow for in-class hands-onactivities, and to enhance other forms of collaborative and active learning. Consistency incoverage had been a problem with this particular course, which is taught every term and has 8-9sections of 45-50 students each. The instructors are senior PhD students, many of whom areinterested in academic careers. A survey of the instructors showed a large inconsistency incoverage, upwards of 20% mismatch in topics between sections. High levels of inconsistencyacross multiple sections of a course is not unusual even among experienced instructors when thesyllabus is considered to be “packed with material.” Inverting the course with all course lecturesonline and common homework and exams across all sections removes most of the inconsistencyacross sections. Another major motivation for inverting this particular course was to provide anopportunity to bring hands-on experimental activities into the classroom. Previous studies at thisuniversity showed that the inclusion of mini labs done in a lecture-based course enhancedstudents’ understanding of fundamental concepts in the course. However, many professorslimited the number of in-class activities citing the need to “get through” the lecture material. Byproviding online lectures to invert the Circuits and Electronics course for nonmajors, sixexperiments were added into the course all done during standard 50-minute lecture class periods. Why use a MOOC to invert a class? The MOOC platform, specifically Coursera, is acomplete learning environment. The main component is the set of online lectures, including theability to add short in-video concept quizzes to keep students focused. In addition, there areautomatically graded quizzes and homework problems, a forum for questions, a calendar withstaged emails to remind students of upcoming deadlines, and a structure to organize all of thecourse materials for ease of student navigation. The platform itself provides the neededinfrastructure to invert a class; however, offering a MOOC is more challenging since the MOOCmust be a self-contained course with assignments and quizzes. The MOOC establishes a baselinefor students wanting an introduction to the field, and the higher levels of cognitive understandingand synthesis are strengthened from the in-class and face to face experience. From a schedulingand content standpoint, the MOOC establishes a pace through the material that does not fall preyto different types of delays and disruptions that often leads to inconsistency across sections.Different universities have experimented with MOOCs to support courses, but the most commonusage is as supplemental resources. This particular course and associated MOOC were integrally tied together. Both sets ofaudiences had the same lectures, homework, quizzes, and shared the same forum. There weretwo almost duplicate simultaneous instances of the MOOC, one for the general off-campusstudents and one strictly for on-campus students so that we could track their grades and send outannouncements to them. The course was taught as a pilot to 130 on-campus students at a majorengineering school during the summer of 2013. Based on the feedback of the pilot group, thecourse was fine-tuned prior to offering it full-scale in Fall 2013. Over 16,000 students signed upfor the open version of the course with approximately 3000 students active in the course on aweekly basis. The on-campus audience consisted of 406 students enrolled in one of 9 sections ofthe corresponding regular course. The shared forum was visited by both the online and the on-campus students, with some of the on-campus students patiently answering many questions as ifthey were unpaid teaching assistants. Their contribution, through the forum, to the MOOC wasoutstanding. The grading structure for the on-campus students consists of the MOOC grade(homework and quizzes), in-class tests common across all sections, in-class labs, in-class quizzesthat are based on the online lectures. These short two-minute in-class quizzes provides asafeguard to making sure that students are keeping up with the material. The quizzes have beenoffered in a both an individual and collaborative manner. In addition to the six in-class labsduring the term, the class time is devoted to questions that students have on the lecture materialor homework material, working extra problems similar to the homework, and working onhomework. Various instruments are being used to assess this course: a concept inventory test, testscores, end of week surveys, interviews, end of the course survey, instructor observationprotocol. A full description of these methods will be contained in the full paper along with adiscussion of the findings. Preliminary findings suggest that the consistency can be achieved asmeasured by the grades on the common tests. During the summer semester, for example, the testaverages ranged no more than 2 percentage points across the three sections.

Ferri, B. H., & Majerich, D. M., & Parrish, N. V., & Ferri, A. A. (2014, June), Use of a MOOC Platform to Blend a Linear Circuits Course for Non-Majors Paper presented at 2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Indianapolis, Indiana.

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