Student Understanding of Analog Electronics

To date, there has been relatively little work conducted by the physics education research community on upper-division laboratory courses.  Perhaps even more importantly, while there is a large and incredibly rich body of literature on student understanding of introductory electric circuits, there is surprisingly little published work on student understanding of (non-introductory) analog electronics.  This is even more surprising given that the topic is covered in both physics and engineering courses.  For this reason, student understanding of analog electronics remains a primary focus of my scholarly activities.

In upper-division laboratory courses on analog electronics, students are expected to develop a functional understanding of the behavior of electronic circuits so that they may design and construct practical circuits for applications in both research and the real world.  At the same time, many studies have shown that students struggle with basic dc circuits in introductory physics courses, and some of these difficulties have been found to persist both during and after upper-division electronics instruction.  For these reasons, the investigation initially focused on student conceptual understanding of analog electronics exclusively, with an emphasis on both canonical electronics topics (e.g., transistor and op-amp circuits) and the application of fundamental circuits concepts (e.g., Kirchhoff’s rules).  We are also examining the extent to which the nature of student understanding of analog electronics (including, for example, the specific difficulties identified and their relative prevalence) in physics and engineering courses depends upon disciplinary context.  In addition, we are currently developing and refining research-based instructional materials for use in both disciplines.

Researchers on project:

MacKenzie R. Stetzer
Kevin Van De Bogart (Ph.D student)


  • K. L. Van De Bogart and M. R. Stetzer, “Investigating physics and engineering students’ understanding of ac biasing networks,” Proceedings of the 2016 Annual Conference & Exposition of the American Society for Engineering Education (New Orleans, LA, June 26-29, 2016), American Society for Engineering Education (2016).
  • C. P. Papanikolaou, G. S. Tombras, K. L. Van De Bogart, and M. R. Stetzer, “Investigating student understanding of operational-amplifier circuits,” Am. J. Phys. 83, 1039-1050 (2015).
  • K. L. Van De Bogart and M. R. Stetzer, “Student understanding of circuit loading in physics and engineering,” 2014 Physics Education Research Conference Proceedings (Minneapolis, MN, July 30-31, 2014), edited by P. V. Engelhardt, A. D. Churukian, and D. L. Jones, 251-254 (2015).

MacKenzie Stetzer’s home page