Conceptual learning of fundamentals in electric circuits: Student misconceptions, textbooks, and multi-perspective conceptual change

Deepika Sangam, Purdue University


Student difficulties with fundamental electric circuit principles are often attributed to everyday interactions with electricity and the abstract nature of the associated concepts. In light of these difficulties, numerous studies have focused on identifying student difficulties, misconceptions, understanding the conceptual change process, and developing effective ways to teach. However, many related areas of research remain under-explored, such as investigating the efficacy of textbooks in conceptual learning, and more comprehensively examining the nature of students' conceptual development. This research begins to address these gaps through three interrelated studies. Study 1 systematically compares four existing concept inventories, and then uses one of the leading instruments (DIRECT v1.0) to identify difficult concepts among first-year engineering students. The results showed that first-year engineering students on average scored less than 65%, confirming that students entering ECE programs have significant conceptual difficulties. Study 2 presents an analysis of six popular circuit theory textbooks to determine their role in student conceptual learning, including treatment of difficult concepts. Study 3 investigates undergraduate students' fundamental conceptions of electric circuits at different levels of study in an Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE) program. This research analyzes students' conceptions using a multi-perspective framework that brings together epistemological, ontological and social/affective perspectives. From an epistemological perspective, status (intelligible, plausible, fruitful) of students' conception is used as a measure of conceptual understanding. From an ontological perspective, students' ontological commitments are determined by examining verbal predicates usage when discussing notions of electric current. The social/affective perspective examines the role of student interest, motivation and background. This approach to analyzing students' conceptions provides a more holistic view of the effect of different instructional experience in ECE programs on conceptual learning. As reported, for example, Study 3 demonstrates that with experience in ECE, though students' conceptual understanding characteristics (conceptual status, ontological attributes) show a positive trend towards scientific understanding, their personal interest and motivation appear to be the key factors that eventually lead to conceptual change. These findings are directly applicable to instruction design, and as a foundation for future research that can use this analysis framework to study the effectiveness of conceptual change pedagogies.




Jesiek, Purdue University.

Subject Area

Science education|Curriculum development

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