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First electronics courses are considered difficult by students because of the circuit theory content, and retention of students in electronics is a problem worldwide. Retention is especially problematic at universities that offer a common first-year program since the students can change streams, for example from Electrical to Mechanical. At our university we ran the laboratory classes for a challenging first-year electronics course in the same room at the same time as a popular final-year mechatronics class that involved visible use of Lego Mindstorms, a model elevator, digital model trains and slot cars, etc. We report the outcomes of a quantitative and qualitative study of the impact of this organisation. One lab stream did not see the parallel classes and thus acted as a control group.
In electrical engineering, as in other academic disciplines, there exist special, threshold concepts, where students often get stuck but which once grasped reveal new ways of thinking about a subject. Two surveys, student interviews and focus group discussions, and students’ assessment were directed at learning of threshold concepts and their pre-cursors. Results suggest that one of the precursor concepts, current flow, may be a threshold concept in itself. A model of precursor and threshold concepts assessment and additional student-support for learning threshold concepts is suggested.
The Theory of Threshold Concepts (TCs), first articulated by Land and Meyer in 2003, provides educators in many disciplines with a tool to identify those special ideas that both define the characteristic ways of thinking of expert practitioners, and cause the greatest learning difficulties for students. Concept inventories are popular assessment tools, epitomized by the widely-accepted Force Concept Inventory of Hestenes et al., introduced circa 1992. It is a natural marriage to bring these two thrusts together to produce ???Threshold-Concept Inventories???. We report ongoing work to develop and verify such a TC-inspired inventory assessment tool in the field of electronics and simple circuit theory. We identify the difficulty in the development of questions targeted at assessing understanding of single threshold concepts and present r...
This study reports on the initial work on the use of Threshold Concept Theory (TCT) to develop a threshold-concept inventory ??? a catalogue of the important concepts that underlie electronics and electrical engineering (EE) ??? and an assessment tool ??? to investigate the depth of student understanding of threshold and related concepts, independent of students??? numerical ability and knowledge mimicry in the first-year course in electrical engineering. This is both challenging and important for several reasons: there is a known issue with student retention (Tsividis, 1998; 2009); the discipline is relatively hard for students because it concerns invisible phenomena; and finally it is one that demands deep understanding from the very start (Scott, Harlow, Peter, and Cowie, 2010). Although the focus of this research was on electronic ...
Educational disparities between indigenous Maori students and those of the majority continue to be a major issue in New Zealand. Te Kotahitanga, an iterative research and development programme, which commenced in 2001, supports teachers to implement a relationship-based pedagogy in their classrooms in order to improve Maori students' achievement in mainstream secondary schools. This article addresses the question of how gains in Maori students' achievement can be sustained and expanded. Schools, from an earlier phase of the project, in their 6th and 7th year of the programme were examined, using a theory-based model designed to evaluate and promote dimensions necessary for effective institutional support of the teaching innovation. This article demonstrates that schools that have been the most effective implementers of the intervention...
Electronics and circuit theory are acknowledged as troublesome subjects when first introduced to students. This leads to low student retention into later electronics courses, especially in universities that offer a common first year where students are free to change streams after the first year. We report on a detailed study of the application of Threshold Concept Theory to an introductory electronics course. We identify some Threshold Concepts, explicit and tacit. We postulate that a high density of Threshold Concepts accounts for the reputation for troublesome learning in, and low retention following, these courses. We further suggest that the bimodal distribution of marks that is commonly observed in electronics teaching is a hallmark of a Thresold Concept. This may have significant impact on assessment.
Could the challenge of mastering threshold concepts be a potential factor that influences a student's decision to continue in electronics engineering? This was the question that led to a collaborative research project between educational researchers and the Faculty of Engineering in a New Zealand university. This paper deals exclusively with the qualitative data from this project, which was designed to investigate the high attrition rate of students taking introductory electronics in a New Zealand university. The affordances of the various teaching opportunities and the barriers that students perceived are examined in the light of recent international research in the area of threshold concepts and transformational learning. Suggestions are made to help students move forward in their thinking, without compromising the need for maintaini...
Engagement of students in traditional engineering tutorials can be low, especially where the level of preparation varies widely across the student population. Online tutorials are a way of addressing this problem, as they offer the chance for students to work at their own pace, at their own preferred times, while staff can add and update questions, links, and hints in almost-real time. We created such a set of tutorials in an introductory electronics course, incorporating a strong Threshold-Concept focus. The tutorials were coded by one of us (Balsom) in PHP, and this allowed us to extensively and flexibly control reporting to examine student usage. We benchmarked students from year to year, introduced the eTutorials, and measured their impact. We employed surveys and interviews for additional feedback. We quantitatively and qualitativ...
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