Teaching Series and Parallel Connections

B. J. Skromme, M. L. Wong, C. J. Redshaw, M. A. O'Donnell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Contribution: A new operational definition of series connections is given based on elements belonging to the same two meshes, which is properly dual to the usual definition of parallel elements being connected to the same two nodes. Furthermore, computer-based exercises have been developed and tested to teach students about such connections in gateway linear circuits courses, using color coding of nodes and meshes as a pedagogical device. Background: Series and parallel connections are a crucial but difficult concept. Existing textbooks give them limited attention, resulting in later difficulties learning circuit analysis. Research Questions: RQ1: Can an improved definition of series elements aid student understanding and student satisfaction? RQ2: Can a computer-based 'game' lead to effective mastery and student satisfaction at a wide range of institutions, including minority-serving ones? Methodology: Standard and new definitions were elaborated in a multiple-choice tutorial. A game was developed focusing on identifying series and parallel connections, with color coding of both nodes and meshes. Student learning was assessed over eight years using pretest and posttest in 14 varied institutions. Student opinions were assessed using several types of surveys. Findings: Strong learning gains were observed every semester from built-in pretest and posttest, with average scores of 28% and 87%, respectively. Large improvements were observed at every institution including five minority-serving ones. The posttest score is increased by a statistically significant amount after introducing the new definition of series elements. Students preferred the new definition of series and recommended its use, and very strongly endorsed color coding.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)461-470
Number of pages10
JournalIEEE Transactions on Education
Issue number3
StatePublished - Aug 1 2022


  • Circuit topology
  • color coding
  • computer-aided instruction
  • conceptual learning
  • linear circuit analysis
  • parallel connections
  • series connections

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education
  • Electrical and Electronic Engineering


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