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Visualizing Pedagogical Circuits

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1998 Annual Conference


Seattle, Washington

Publication Date

June 28, 1998

Start Date

June 28, 1998

End Date

July 1, 1998



Page Count


Page Numbers

3.627.1 - 3.627.7

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Paper Authors

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Richard D. Christie

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Peter M. Trinidad

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Session 1532

Visualizing Pedagogical Circuits Richard D. Christie, Ph.D., Peter M. Trinidad

Department of Electrical Engineering, Box 352500 University of Washington Seattle, Washington 98195-2500 Phone: (206) 543-9689 Fax: (206) 543-3842

Abstract Visualization techniques are integrated with a circuit simulator and applied to pedagogical circuits to communicate circuit behavior in an intuitive way. Several representations of voltage and current are used to convey behavioral aspects of circuit operation. The result is an interactive computer program—CktViz—intended to lower the cognitive barrier to comprehension of circuit operation by graphically representing voltage and current relationships. A small scale educational assessment has been performed using students taking an introductory circuits course as subjects. The results show that CktViz has a positive and significant effect on students' qualitative understanding of circuit behavior.

1. Motivation A major challenge in teaching circuit theory is that many of the students have no intuitive understanding of the behavior of electrical circuits. While they have actual, hands-on experience with, for example, the mechanical properties of materials, their experience with electricity is often limited to switching lights and other equipment on and off. Traditional instruction in introductory circuit theory centers on circuit diagrams with a few defined electrical quantities (voltage and current) identified on the circuit. Even the simplest of circuits contains a wealth of information that goes unseen by the student. Only a few of the values in a circuit are ever calculated in class or homework. The focus of attention is directed to one element or value at a time. Information about other values is often neither shown or seen. The limited visibility of the circuit voltages and currents seems natural to the electrical engineer because instrumentation—voltmeters, ohmmeters, oscilloscopes—typically show only one value at a time. Moreover, hand-calculated results describing the state of the system from quantitative analysis methods (i.e. finding voltages and currents from equations) are necessarily obtained away from the circuit. In this process, the circuit is abstracted to a set of equations and numbers. Although they contain the same relationships as the original circuit, the correspondence between the circuit and equations is obscure. While these analysis skills are important, design, which is receiving greater emphasis in engineering education, requires a qualitative understanding of circuit behavior. The traditional teaching process conveys very little about the qualitative behavior of the circuit, or qualitative relations among the circuit values. Although the diagrams are visual, the solution process is well suited to the verbal and intuitive learning styles, and poorly suited for visual and physical learners. No wonder many students leave basic circuit theory courses with a poor grasp of


Christie, R. D., & Trinidad, P. M. (1998, June), Visualizing Pedagogical Circuits Paper presented at 1998 Annual Conference, Seattle, Washington.

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