Designing a Curriculum that Helps Students Create Connected Narratives in Electrical Engineering

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Jones, Sarah Kaye
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American Society for Engineering Education
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Industrial DesignElectrical and Computer Engineering
This paper aims to identify and discuss several conceptual narrative arcs throughout a traditional electrical engineering curriculum that can be used to encourage students to practice deep conceptual learning and the higher stages of Bloom’s Taxonomy, therefore improving their retention, application, and creative problem solving in electrical engineering. The lack of conceptual connections between courses in traditional electrical engineering curriculums leads to courses that are segmented and disconnected, therefore producing graduates who have segmented and disconnected views of electrical engineering. Concepts in one area of electrical engineering should reinforce concepts in another area - they are inexorably interconnected[1]. Helping students to create a connected narrative of concepts throughout the curriculum facilitates deeper understanding of topics, increased critical thinking, and engineers who can approach problems from multiple angles. These qualities are increasingly important for graduates who will become professional engineers, as the change in technology and mindset move at a much greater pace in industry than academia[2]. Most teaching methods in a traditional electrical engineering curriculum haven’t changed since the 1970s - with a preference for theoretical knowledge rather than practical application[3]. The gatekeeper of knowledge paradigm is upheld, in which the professor has the knowledge and the students are the empty receptacles into which they can pour their information and expertise[2]. Courses revolve around lectures and lengthy problem sets. The professor tells the information to the students during lecture, often emphasizing the “correct” equations - flying through PowerPoint slides with no time for the students to absorb the material, much less formulate and ask questions. Lengthy problem sets are assigned as homework, comprised of complicated scenarios in which the only thing truly being evaluated is how well students can identify the “correct” equations and do algebra. This often results in students being able to memorize and imitate a large number of equations, but quickly forget them once the course is over. This is because they have only entered the first stage of Bloom’s Taxonomy: remembering[4]. In contrast, deep conceptual learning focuses on understanding the underlying meaning of the material, connecting new ideas to previous knowledge, recognizing relationships between parts, and relating concepts to everyday experiences[5]. These are associated with the higher stages of Bloom’s Taxonomy. In order for students to engage in deep conceptual learning, they need to address questions such as why certain equations are used, how and why they were derived, and how these equations relate to each other and the larger concepts. However, significantly less emphasis is placed on these topics throughout a traditional undergraduate electrical engineering curriculum. Exploring these questions throughout the curriculum will help students create conceptual narrative arcs that are connected, giving them a more holistic view of electrical engineering and creating more capable engineers. References 1. Sheppard, Sheri D., et al. Educating engineers: Designing for the future of the field. Vol. 2. Jossey-Bass, 2008. 2. Moore, Daniel J., and David R. Voltmer. "Curriculum for an engineering renaissance." IEEE Transactions on Education 46.4 (2003): 452-455. 3. Terman, Frederick E. "A brief history of electrical engineering education." Proceedings of the IEEE 64.9 (1976): 1399-1407. 4. Anderson, Lorin W., et al. "A taxonomy for learning, teaching and assessing: A revision of Bloom’s taxonomy." New York. Longman Publishing. Artz, AF, & Armour-Thomas, E.(1992). Development of a cognitive-metacognitive framework for protocol analysis of mathematical problem solving in small groups. Cognition and Instruction 9.2 (2001): 137-175. 5. Chin, C., & Brown, D. E. (2000). Learning in Science: A Comparison of Deep and Surface Approaches. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 37(2), 109-138.
ASEE holds the copyright on this document. It may be read by the public free of charge. Authors may archive their work on personal websites or in institutional repositories with the following citation: Jones, S. K., & Mina, M. (2018, June), Designing a Curriculum that Helps Students Create Connected Narratives in Electrical Engineering Paper presented at 2018 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Salt Lake City, Utah. 10.18260/1-2--30277. Copyright 2018 American Society for Engineering Education. Posted with permission.