Pre-college electrical engineering instruction: The impact of abstract vs. Contextualized representation and practice on learning

Martin Reisslein, Roxana Moreno, Gamze Ozogul

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

45 Scopus citations


Background: While engineering instructional materials and practice problems for pre-college students are often presented in the context of real-life situations, collegelevel texts are typically written in abstract form. Purpose: (HYPOTHESIS) The goal of this study was to jointly examine the impact of contextualizing engineering instruction and varying the number of practice opportunities on pre-college students' learning and learning perceptions. DESIGN/METHOD: Using a 3 × 2 factorial design, students were randomly assigned to learn about electrical circuit analysis with an instructional program that represented problems in abstract, contextualized, or both forms, either with two practice problems or four practice problems. The abstract problems were devoid of any real-life context and represented with standard abstract electrical circuit diagrams. The contextualized problems were anchored around real-life scenarios and represented with life-like images. The combined contextualized-abstract condition added abstract circuit diagrams to the contextualized representation. To measure learning, students were given a problem-solving near-transfer post-test. Learning perceptions were measured using a program-rating survey where students had to rate the instructional program's diagrams, helpfulness, and difficulty. Results: Students in the combined contextualized-abstract condition scored higher on the post-test, produced better problem representations, and rated the program's diagrams and helpfulness higher than their counterparts. Students who were given two practice problems gave higher program diagram and helpfulness ratings than those given four practice problems. Conclusions: These findings suggest that pre-college engineering instruction should consideranchoring learning in real-life contexts and providing students with abstract problem representations that can be transferred to a variety of problems.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)225-235
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Engineering Education
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jul 2010


  • Practice
  • Problem representation
  • Problem solving

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education
  • General Engineering


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