Abstraction and problem solving in an undergraduate electrical engineering circuits course

Presentacion Rivera-Reyes, Lance C. Pérez

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contribution

3 Scopus citations


The ability to solve problems is a critical skill in all undergraduate engineering curricula. Students' capacity for problem solving is complicated by the fact that higher level reasoning skills, including the capacity for abstraction, are not innate in a person until the mid-twenties or later. The results of an exploratory study that looked at students' episodes of reasoning when solving problems in a sophomore level electrical circuits course are presented. Students' problem solving attempts are analyzed using the representation mapping framework developed by Hahn and Chater that is based on store representations of knowledge and how they are applied. This framework distinguishes between similarity and rules-based cognitive processes, and accounts for memory-bank, rules-based, similarity-based and prototype types of reasoning. Students were asked to think aloud when solving specific problems selected by the course instructor. The interviews were recorded, transcribed, and analyzed in detail to identify the types of reasoning and the degree of abstraction in the students' problem solving attempts. This study demonstrated that representation mapping is useful framework for studying students' problem solving skills in electrical engineering.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationFIE 2016 - Frontiers in Education 2016
Subtitle of host publicationThe Crossroads of Engineering and Business
PublisherInstitute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Inc.
ISBN (Electronic)9781509017904
StatePublished - Nov 28 2016
Event46th Annual Frontiers in Education Conference, FIE 2016 - Erie, United States
Duration: Oct 12 2016Oct 15 2016

Publication series

NameProceedings - Frontiers in Education Conference, FIE
ISSN (Print)1539-4565


Other46th Annual Frontiers in Education Conference, FIE 2016
Country/TerritoryUnited States


  • Abstraction
  • Engineering curriculum
  • Problem solving

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Software
  • Education
  • Computer Science Applications


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