Teaching an introductory electronics course can be very challenging as students often have deep misconceptions concerning the operation of basic electric circuits. Many of these misconceptions are well documented in the literature (McDermott & Shaffer, 1992; Cohen et al, 1983; Andre & Ding, 1991; Engelhardt & Beichner, 2004; Senear et al, 2001; Getty, 2009) and teaching staff can make special efforts to try and overcome these misconceptions. Electronics often also contains many more advanced topics and again it appears that many students have significant conceptual difficulties when trying to understand these topics (Mazzolini et al, 2010; Itaketo, 2010; Carstensen & Bernhard, 2009; Rover et al, 1999; Thomassian & Desai, 2008; Ayu et al, 2009). This study explores a simple learning strategy to help address some of these "advanced" conceptual difficulties.
At Swinburne University of Technology (Melbourne, Victoria), the introductory electronics course is taught across many engineering and science programs. This results in fairly large lecture groups each semester, typically 100 to 200 students. This electronics course covers a wide arrange of subject areas (DC Circuits, Electromagnetism, AC Circuits, Amplification and Digital Electronics), and at a varying level of complexity ranging from simple topics such as Ohm's Law and series/parallel resistor circuits, to more advanced topics such as AC resonance and Operational Amplifiers. Academics teaching into this course have observed that many of the students appear to have significant difficulties in understanding concepts in many areas, including both simple and more advanced topics. To help address some of these difficulties, "small group" (approximately 24 students) laboratory and tutorial sessions in this course have been substantially revised to be more engaging for students. Even so, informal discussions with students indicate that the "large group" traditional lecture classes are not particularly effective in helping them improve their conceptual understanding in many of the advanced topics, and that many of their conceptual difficulties often persist even after very careful and thorough traditional lecture instruction (Mazzolini et al, 2011). This is especially true for the cohort of students who participated in this study as they are predominantly non-electrical engineering and science students.
Active learning (AL) techniques that promote student engagement have been used to highlight, confront and then correct basic student misconceptions in many areas of science and engineering. There is a considerable body of evidence documenting these AL techniques and their effectiveness in correcting student misconceptions, especially in physics education research (Halloun & Hestenes, 1985; Laws, 1997; McDermott, 1991; Crouch et al, 2004). The interactive lecture demonstration (ILD) is one type of AL strategy that can be used in large class environments to engage students and improve their conceptual understanding. ILDs are designed to allow students to construct their understanding of key concepts through experimental observation and discussions with their peers. ILDs have resulted in significant student learning gains in many areas of introductory science and engineering (Sokoloff & Thornton, 1997; Thornton & Sokoloff, 1998; Meltzer & Manivannan, 2002), although the overall level of their effectiveness can vary from course to course (Johnston & Millar, 2000). In the Swinburne introductory electronics course, ILDs were first trialled in 2006. The ILDs were used in a "blended learning" approach to supplement traditional lecture instruction, and were designed to improve students' conceptual understanding of operational amplifiers. The results of the ILD intervention (Mazzolini et al, 2010) have been encouraging but not conclusive due perhaps to some poorly designed questions in the diagnostic test. …