Getting to carnegie hall: Novel timed homework practice to develop basic circuit analysis skills

Michelle Miller, Elizabeth Brauer, John Sharber

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Undergraduate education in electrical engineering can be improved by drawing on research on human learning and cognition. One main result of this research is that frequent practice and self-testing are effective and efficient strategies for mastering new information.[1,2] Furthermore, frequent practice promotes speed as well as accuracy. This point is particularly relevant in the field of electrical engineering, as students must master core concepts (e.g., Ohm's law) such that they can apply them quickly and effortlessly in order to efficiently solve more advanced problems. The present project pilot-tested a novel technique for encouraging frequent, fastpaced practice among students in the first circuits course. Nineteen undergraduate engineering majors (including civil, mechanical, environmental and electrical) participated in a face-to-face course in which traditional course activities (lectures, in-class discussion, exams) were supplemented by three online homework modules. These modules differed from traditional homework assignments in the following ways: First, rather than recapping material presented in class, each module focused exclusively on a single core concept (Ohm's law, op-amps, or complex numbers). Second, the modules were repeatable, such that students were encouraged to submit multiple attempts, with slightly different problems on each attempt. Third, the modules were timed, such that students received bonus points tied to how quickly they completed their best attempt. Effectiveness of the online homework modules was assessed by comparing exam scores across the enhanced and traditionally taught versions of the course, and by conducting an end-of-semester opinion survey. Results showed a statistically significant increase in in-class exam scores for the enhanced course compared to the traditional course. Average percent correct on the first exam was 85.7% in the enhanced course, compared to 79.7% in the traditional course, and for the second exam was 81.4% compared to 62.3% in the traditional course. Performance on the third exam was within the acceptable range (74.7%) for the enhanced course, but differences in the exam format (in-class vs. take-home), combined with the large proportion of students not completing the third online homework module, prevented meaningful statistical comparisons. Final exam scores were also statistically compared and showed no differences across the traditional (71.1%) and enhanced (70.9%) sections. Student opinion of the online homework modules was positive, with large majorities responding either "Strongly agree" or "Agree somewhat" to the statements that the modules helped them understand class material, helped them practice skills needed on exams, and were generally useful to the class. Subsidiary analyses focused on predictors of exam performance including number of attempts, best score, best time, and level of academic preparation. Qualitative comments from the instructor and from students were also summarized, with an overall trend toward positive impressions of the online homework modules. Results suggest that repeatable, timed modules focusing on core concepts are an effective way to raise student performance and learning.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalASEE Annual Conference and Exposition, Conference Proceedings
StatePublished - 2011

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Engineering


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