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PERKS: Power Electronics Refined learning via affordable Kit and Software tutor: 1505058

Principal Investigator: Ali Mehrizi-Sani
CoPrincipal Investigator(s): Robert Olsen
Organization: Washington State University

Power electronics is an enabling technology for the smart power grid. However, students often struggle in power electronics courses because it requires mastery and simultaneous application of concepts from several earlier courses. To address this educational challenge, the objectives of this project at Washington State University (WSU) include designing (i) a software tutor to help students translate visual information (circuit diagrams) to written information (equations) and analyze a power electronic converter circuit and (ii) an all-in-one low cost prototype circuit kit for hands-on experimentation with power electronic converters that run off the USB port of a laptop without needing extra equipment. These boards promote an anywhere, anytime, living-with-the-laboratory paradigm. This work makes electrical engineering students more employable by making them competent in an area where many graduates struggle. The designs and prototype products developed with this project have the potential to reach students in universities worldwide through collaboration with an extensive commercial distribution network. Four universities (WSU, Georgia Institute of Technology, University of Idaho, and University of Manitoba) will implement and utilize the developed curricular material in their power electronic courses, with a total expected enrollment of 150 students per year. The outcomes of this project are not only of interest to the power electronics education community, but they also pave the road for developing similar tools for other multidisciplinary courses. The accessible web-based nature of the developed material can affect a broad population.

The products of this project support a visual learning style, the preferred learning style of many engineering students, thereby increasing their understanding and ultimately, their retention. The software tool developed in this project uses an interactive well-established pedagogical approach (scaffolding) to improve student learning and problem solving skills. Scaffolding provides students with a template and dynamic feedback to assist them in their early stages of learning. As a result, student self-confidence will improve, which is expected to improve students’ choice of careers in power engineering. This project will be transformative because it develops a novel approach that mixes scaffolding, visual learning, and formative feedback to transform power electronics education into a significantly more engaging experience. An external evaluator will gauge the effectiveness of the developed material in overcoming conceptual difficulties and improving students’ attitudes toward power electronics. A mixed-methods approach that emphasizes qualitative understandings supplemented by quantitative data will be used, including a within-subjects experimental design. In addition to the collection of background information (e.g., gender) and baseline measures (e.g., prior knowledge and motivation and attitude toward power electronics), the students will be given two sets of problems with similar difficulty levels and asked to solve them with and without the scaffold provided by the software tutor. Students’ approaches to problem solving will be recorded and analyzed quantitatively, e.g. completion time, correctness of subcircuits, correctness of equations, and correctness of the final solution. Pre- and post-assessment tests of the students’ technical knowledge will be administered and student responses on homework assignments, mid-term tests, and final exams will also be analyzed.

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