Measuring conceptual understanding of Systems & Signals university subjects

C. Crockett, H. C. Powell and C. J. Finelli, Conceptual Understanding of Signals and Systems in Senior Undergraduate Students, IEEE Transactions on Education, vol. 66, no. 2, pp. 113-122, April 2023 DOI: 10.1109/TE.2022.3199079.

Contribution: This article proposes a new definition of conceptual understanding (CU) specific to engineering. It then measures CU of signals and systems (S&S) in senior undergraduate students and describes how students approach conceptual problems. Background: Previous studies across multiple engineering subjects show students have low CU at the end of courses. However, little is known about CU semesters after a course. Research Questions: What is the CU of S&S concepts among electrical engineering senior students? Methodology: This mixed method study uses quantitative concept inventory data (n=467) and think-aloud interviews (n=12) to measure CU. The results come from two universities. Findings: Seniors\u2019 scores on the concept inventory are typical of scores presented at the end of an S&S course. Many struggled with the concept of linearity, made a common error when finding the maximum value in graphical convolution, and had low confidence on relating frequencies in time to a Fourier transform representation, but seniors had relatively high CU of time invariance and filtering.

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