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Work-in-Progress: Problems in learning related to mathematical and graphical representations of signals

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2022 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Minneapolis, MN

Publication Date

August 23, 2022

Start Date

June 26, 2022

End Date

June 29, 2022

Conference Session

Electrical and Computer Engineering Division Poster Session

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Paper Authors


Farrah Fayyaz Concordia University

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Dr Farrah Fayyaz is a Lecturer in the Center for Engineering in Society in Gina Cody School of
Engineering and Computer Science, Concordia University, Montreal, Canada. She got her PhD in Engineering Education from Purdue University. She holds Bachelors and Master degrees in Electrical Engineering from University of Engineering and Technology, Lahore, Pakistan. She has taught Electrical Engineering related courses for almost twenty years now. She is very passionate about teaching and research related to math intensive concepts of engineering. Her research seeks to improve engineering education by studying electrical engineering students' conceptual understanding across the borders. In addition to teaching and research she enjoys mentoring and coaching young future engineers.

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Conceptual learning of concepts that are expressed intensively in mathematical equations and processes is an ongoing challenge for engineering students. There is ample evidence in literature that electrical engineering students struggle in subjects like signals and systems because it heavily involves switching between mathematical and graphical representations of signals as well as many different domains. The purpose of this study is to identify the mistakes made by undergraduate electrical engineering students when they try to make sense of graphical and mathematical representations of different kinds of information in different contexts, for example, drawing a complex signal in time domain, drawing a frequency domain graph, drawing current-voltage characteristics of a device, and transfer characteristics of a system. The data for this study is collected from various exam responses of undergraduate electrical engineering students in two courses namely signals and systems and Electronics 1. Most of the students in Electronics 1 had already taken signals and systems course and some were co-taking signals and systems. This set up has helped to understand the learning challenges that persist even when students continue to apply similar mathematical concepts in other contexts. The responses are analyzed to identify the common mistakes. These common mistakes are further analyzed to understand students’ weaknesses in solving questions related to these concepts. The results show that students struggle with understanding signals when the independent variable is not time, when the signal is complex and contains j, when the signal is a combination of more than one signals, and when the signals are abstract. The author concludes that the learning of such concepts requires continuous switching between abstract concepts and multiple domains and most of the concepts cannot be learned through sensory learning which causes students with all sorts of learning styles struggle with getting comfortable with these concepts. The mistakes identified in this work-in-progress paper is the first step to guide the protocol design for a future qualitative study to understand the reasonings students employ to make sense of these mathematical equations and representations, compare the thought processes when a question is solved correctly and when not, and investigate how students’ thought processes evolve as they keep taking courses throughout their program that require similar reasonings for better learning.

Fayyaz, F. (2022, August), Work-in-Progress: Problems in learning related to mathematical and graphical representations of signals Paper presented at 2022 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Minneapolis, MN.

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