A qualitative study of problematic reasonings of undergraduate electrical engineering students in Continuous Time Signals and Systems courses
Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Committee Member 1
Committee Member 2
Committee Member 3
Continuous Time Signals and Systems is a core course in the undergraduate electrical engineering curriculum. The topics covered in this course are difficult to learn conceptually because a significant number of topics are abstract, disconnected from a student's daily life, and make extensive use of mathematical modeling and formulas. Engineering educators have put in significant effort to design effective educational strategies for this course; however, there remained a gap in qualitative understanding of students' reasonings associated with difficulties in conceptual learning of the course content. This study aims to fill this gap by identifying problematic reasonings of undergraduate electrical engineering students when they engage with the course content. In addition, this study aims to identify and assess the differences in the problematic reasonings employed by students of different academic statuses (students who have only taken Continuous Time Signals and Systems course and students who have taken subsequent courses). Looking at the differences in the problematic reasonings used by the students of different academic statuses enables an understanding of the persistent difficulties in learning the course content.^ This study used a constructivist framework and started with the design and validation of a sixty-minute semi-structured interview protocol. The protocol is designed based on the difficult topics in this course identified through literature and content experts of Continuous Time Signals and Systems courses. Once the protocol was tested, nineteen undergraduate electrical engineering students from a teaching-intensive Midwestern university were interviewed for this study. The participants were required to have passed this course already. Of the nineteen participants, eight (CTSS-only group) have only taken Continuous Time Signals and Systems course and eleven (CTSS-plus group) have taken subsequent (up to 4) courses. Each student was interviewed individually. Data collected from think-aloud interviews were analyzed using thematic analysis. ^ Results revealed that the reasonings used by the participants that are potentially problematic in conceptual learning of Continuous Time Signals and Systems course content are related to content areas of Signal Representations and Operations, Frequency Analysis, and System Analysis. The identified reasonings can be further classified under three main learning challenges, namely i) accommodation; ii) translation of a signal to its multiple representations in one domain; and iii) translation of a signal to its multiple representations between domains (time and frequency). The robust problematic reasonings are the ones exhibited equally by all nineteen students in translating a signal to its multiple representations between domains (time and frequency). ^ The results of this study can provide a broader impact on future work across many subfields within engineering including electrical, computer, mechanical, biomedical, aeronautics, and astronautics. This study will benefit both engineering curriculum developers to design curriculum that efficiently help students develop a conceptual understanding of courses like Continuous Time Signals and Systems and instructors of Continuous Time Signals and Systems courses to develop successful educational strategies for this course. Additionally, the design of this study can be used as an example for future work in understanding problematic concepts within engineering education.
Fayyaz, Farrah, "A qualitative study of problematic reasonings of undergraduate electrical engineering students in Continuous Time Signals and Systems courses" (2014). Open Access Dissertations. 266.