EMPOWERING ENGINEERING STUDENTS TO ENHANCE THEIR UNDERSTANDING OF ELECTRONICS BY MEANS OF AN ONLINE SIMULATION TOOL. A CASE STUDY IN UNDERGRADUATE ENGINEERING COURSES
Nowadays, electronics subjects represent an important amount of the total course load in many engineering degrees at university. Electronics applications have increased significantly in the last decades, due to the considerable emergence of technology developments, which are mainly sustained by electronic devices. This is another fact which highlights the paramount importance of improving the teaching of electronics, especially in the first years of engineering degrees.
According to our experience, the students’ outcomes associated to the understanding of electronics are significantly low. Despite the fact that we have periodically renewed our teaching programs with more practical sessions and more project-oriented activities, the results only confirm that students acquire a better performance in the resolution of electronic circuits, when it comes to applying a repetitive circuit resolution model. However, their real understanding of basic electronics principles, is still low.
Standard electronics teaching strategies cannot be redesigned from scratch, since Ohm's and Kirchhoff's laws are essential, and must be taught from the first introductory lessons. Nonetheless, alternative resources such as online and simulation tools, have extensively demonstrated their benefits when used in solving engineering problems, but also in teaching them. In this work, we propose an enhancement of the teaching program by introducing an online electronics simulation tool, in order to reinforce the traditional teaching, based in master classes and practical sessions. To that end, we have stated different activities where students are encouraged to test and compare former problem’s results with the simulated ones. This simulation tool represents an easy online resource of intuitive use, without need of software installation. Both master classes and practical sessions in the laboratory, are considered for the introduction of the simulation tool. Overall, it is worth noticing that activities have been designed in order to motivate and empower students to reinforce their own, and so far misconceived, understanding of electronics.
Taking into account these facts, we have been able to confirm the validity of the introduction of a simulation tool in order to enhance the student’s marks in electronics subjects. But most importantly, we have assessed the success in enhancing their real understanding of electronics. To that purpose, we have implemented a survey to evaluate the students’ initial concepts on electronics, firstly, at the beginning of the course, and secondly, at the end of the program. Furthermore, a comparison analysis is presented in three different undergraduate engineering degrees, within the Spanish official university system. Finally, the student’s attitude to the program, and motivation to keep enriching their electronics knowledge, have been also studied. According to the encouraging preliminary results, we expect this program can be polished and updated in the following academic years, where more extended and consistent results may be assessed.