This thesis is concerned with student understanding of key concepts in electrical engineering teaching within higher education. Anecdotal evidence suggests that many students struggle to understand threshold concepts and therefore encounter difficulties in learning theoretical models which are underpinned by such theoretical concepts. This research utilised a mixed methods approach to investigate the factors that influence student understanding of key theoretical concepts within electrical engineering. The initial study used a questionnaire to evaluate student understanding of concepts which were identified by teaching staff as being core to a particular module. The study identified that students commenced the module with poor understanding and that instruction on the module ELC040 Electrical Machines and Systems did not lead to improved understanding of core concepts. This suggests that the roots of student misunderstanding lay elsewhere.
Desk research was subsequently employed to explore the sources of student misunderstandings. Performance data was analysed and demonstrated that the roots of the student misunderstanding of Electrical Machine Theory lay in the pre-requisite module Electrical Power B. Students routinely failed to achieve high levels of understanding in this module and as a result were unable to successfully build upon it in the third year module.
Semi-structured interviews were then undertaken with Part C students who were undertaking the Electrical Machines and Systems module. In addition, structured interviews were administered with the Part B students. The interviews aimed to establish the study practices adopted by students across both years. The study showed that students found the ELA001 module difficult, and the majority believe that most other students felt the same way as they did. Students provided evidence of poor study techniques, by reporting last minute sessions to complete coursework and last minute revision for exams.
This research informed the development of an interactive learning tool which was piloted on a small cohort of students. The research has also established that there are many influences on the development of student understanding of threshold concepts within electrical engineering and argues for a more active style of teaching in order to address student misunderstanding.
A Doctoral Thesis. Submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the award of Doctor of Philosophy of Loughborough University.