Electric circuit analysis is a common topic in electrical engineering undergraduate programs worldwide. Although there is abundant educational literature on the adoption of innovative pedagogical strategies for teaching this topic, courses on electric circuits analysis are usually taught in a traditional class format. In this work, the authors describe the implementation of an active learning strategy, namely Peer Instruction, in an electric circuit analysis course offered at a large public university in Colombia. Peer Instruction is an instructional approach that fosters students’ collaboration to increase conceptual understanding. Students answer a conceptual question and then share their thoughts with a group of three to four classmates.
The project included three sections of the course mentioned above. In two of the sections, students attended a traditional class format (51 students) while another section (with 15 students) implemented the Peer Instruction methodology. The research question driving this project was whether a Peer Instruction strategy would produce significantly higher learning gains than the traditional blackboard and chalk approach. A difference was determined using a quasi-experimental study comparing the learning gains of the students in the traditional sections (i.e., the control group) versus those of the students in the Peer Instruction section (i.e., the experimental group). The learning gains were measured by pre/post application of the DIRECT concept inventory. DIRECT is a validated test developed by Engelhardt and Beichner in 2004 at North Carolina State University, which focuses on basic concepts of DC circuits. One of the authors translated the DIRECT instrument into Spanish and, a confirmatory factor analysis was used to determine the reliability of the translated instrument. DIRECT was used to collect scores that were used later on to determine the Hake gain for each group. Then, a t-test allowed the authors to verify the significance of the difference between the Hake gains. In addition, students in the experimental group were asked to complete a survey on the difficulty of the course topics and the usefulness of the active learning activities implemented.
Preliminary results suggest that the implementation of a Peer Instruction approach in an electric circuit analysis course improves the performance of students on the DIRECT test. Students in the experimental group identified time constants on first and second order circuits, and power analysis on AC circuits as the hardest topics to understand. In addition, students reported a perceived high usefulness of the Peer Instruction activities. In particular, they said that those activities helped them to understand the concepts discussed. Limitations of this project include the small size of the sample, particularly when accounting for the number of students who participated in both the pre and posttests, and the difference in the sizes between the two groups. On the other hand, possibilities for future work include assessing the impact that context variables can have on the effectiveness of Peer Instruction, and its implementation in different contexts.
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