Designing Animated Simulations and Web-Based Assessments to Improve Electrical Engineering Education

Designing Animated Simulations and Web-Based Assessments to Improve Electrical Engineering Education

Douglas L. Holton, Amit Verma
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-61520-659-9.ch007
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Over the past decade, our research group has uncovered more evidence about the difficulties undergraduate students have understanding electrical circuit behavior. This led to the development of an AC/DC Concept Inventory instrument to assess student understanding of these concepts, and various software tools have been developed to address the identified difficulties students have when learning about electrical circuits. In this chapter two software tools in particular are discussed, a web-based dynamic assessment environment (Inductor) and an animated circuit simulation (Nodicity). Students showed gains over time when using Inductor, and students using the simulation showed significant improvements on half of the questions in the AC/DC Concept Inventory. The chapter concludes by discussing current and future work focused on creating a more complete, well-rounded circuits learning environment suitable for supplementing traditional circuits instruction. This in-progress work includes the use of a contrasting cases strategy that presents pairs of simulated circuit problems, as well as the design of an online learning community in which teachers and students can share their work.
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Students often have specific difficulties understanding basic electricity concepts (e.g., Duit, et al., 1984; Caillot, 1991). One of the primary difficulties students have in learning about and understanding circuit behavior is the current consumption model, where current is viewed as a substance that is “consumed” by a device, such as a light bulb or resistor (Reiner et al., 2000). Students may conceive of a battery as a constant current source rather than a source of invariant voltage (Engelhart & Beichner, 2004). Students may also fail to differentiate between current and voltage, and power and energy (McDermott & van Zhee, 1984). Previous research has primarily been concerned with simple direct current (DC) circuit problems, and this may inadvertently guide one towards instructional decisions that reinforce misconceptions and difficulties students have when learning in other contexts. As part of an Office of Naval Research (ONR) funded project at Vanderbilt University, we extended research of student understanding of electric circuits into the domain of alternating current (AC) circuits. We were motivated by questions such as, to what extent do students exhibit the same misconceptions that they exhibit for DC circuits? How do students interpret time-varying phenomena?

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