Abstract: Context: A significant and serious learning problem exists with students' poor understandings of fundamental electric circuit concepts. It directly contributes to issues with enrolment, retention and performance of students in electrical engineering courses and those who continue in courses often maintain these misunderstandings throughout their degrees and into the workforce.
This is an international phenomenon, one that science education researchers have been investigating for decades and is not unique to students with limited backgrounds in secondary school physics. At the University of Auckland all engineering students take seven compulsory courses after which they choose their specific discipline. Entry to this program requires the majority of students to have achieved passes in the electricity examination of the final year of secondary school physics. While students are able to gain the required grades, first-year student quiz data reveals persistent confusion about the most fundamental circuit properties and concepts.
Purpose: The purpose of this first stage of the research was to investigate if a set of comprehensive online tutorials focussed on fundamental circuit concepts could improve first-year students' understandings.
Approach: In 2015 the first author developed an online concepts quiz and, a set of intended learning outcomes for student understanding based upon physics and electrical engineering literature, and a range of fundamental circuit concepts tutorials (FCCTs). The online FCCTs were developed with a focus not on content but on a strategic blend of known educational strategies identified from engineering education, general educational literature, prior engineering practice and teaching experience. These include the use of context, circuit visualisation, variation theory and the avoidance of calculations. In 2015 first year engineering students were offered the FCCTs as optional support before their course began. After the first use the FCCTs were refined based upon student feedback. In 2016 a similar concept quiz was used with first year students and the FCCTs were again offered to students; however the first ten of these tutorials now counted as 4% of the course grade.
Results: Online concept quizzes from both years revealed misunderstandings of fundamental circuit concepts held by up to 90% of students. In the first year when provided voluntary tutorials, 20% of 868 students completed five or more of the FCCTs, many leaving positive comments about them; with 60% of students not accessing them at all. In the second year, when worth 4% of the course grade, by the mid-point in the semester 55% of students had completed five or more of the required FCCTs and 31% had completed all of them. At that time students had left 583 written comments and 2250 Likert scale ratings. 75% of the ratings and 80% of the comments were positive, with many students leaving comments directly relating to clarifications of known misunderstandings.
Conclusions: The very positive response from students to work focussed on fundamental concepts justifies the resources required to develop the FCCTs and to further refine and research them in the future. This positive result indicates that there are benefits from taking a holistic view of a learning situation by critically theorizing the learning issues using an integration of literature from several fields, and then synthesizing a strategy which brings together several aspects of best practice.
To cite this article: Collis, Bill; Rowe, Gerard and Donald, Claire. Development of electric circuit understanding through fundamental concept tutorials [online]. In: 27th Annual Conference of the Australasian Association for Engineering Education : AAEE 2016. Lismore, NSW: Southern Cross University, 2016: 170-179.
[cited 27 Jun 17].