Power electronics is an enabling technology for the smart power grid. However, students often struggle in the Power Electronics course because it requires mastery and simultaneous application of concepts from several earlier courses. Existing tools, e.g., industry-grade simulators, do not provide formative feedback, may overwhelm students, and do the steps necessary to analyze a circuit behind the scene. To address this educational challenge, based on this NSF-supported project, we have designed and developed a software tutor to help students in this course by providing a scaffold to translate visual information (circuit diagrams) to written information (equations) and analyze a power electronic converter circuit.
In our work, the following approach is used to address this problem:
1. Scaffolding: The web-based software tool developed in this project uses scaffolding as an interactive well-established pedagogical approach to improve student learning and problem solving skills. Our specific research question is “to what extent will scaffolding via a software tool improve students’ understanding of and interest in power electronics?”
2. Dynamic Feedback: Scaffolding provides students with a template and dynamic feedback to assist them in their early stages of learning. In our case, the developed software tutor assists students by scaffolding the following aspects: (i) creating circuit diagrams and providing formative feedback, (ii) translating circuit diagrams into equations, and (iii) solving the resulting equations. The feedback messages provide the answer to three major questions: “where am I going?” (feed up), “how am I going?” (feed back), and “where to next?” (feed forward). A feedback message describes (i) the issue, (ii) the cause of the issue, and (iii) the suggested solution.
3. Validation: When the topology of the circuit is validated by the tutor, the student can start writing the circuit equations. After correct equations are produced, the tutor shows the circuit voltage and current waveforms obtained from these equations side-by-side with the exact circuit solution. Comparison of the approximate and exact solutions is performed to demonstrate the results are very close.
In line with scaffolding theory, we maintain a balance in creating this tool: we want to assist students to master problem solving, but we do not want them to be so dependent on the scaffold that they cannot transition to independent problem solving. The design and development of this software tool is finished, and it will be tested in Power Electronics courses at four universities. Testing at WSU has already begun in spring 2017.
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