Improving Student Learning in Power Engineering – The Use of Concept Maps as Evaluation Tool

Valentina Cecchi
Associate Professor
UNC Charlotte

Need: Today’s electric power grid is an intelligent and interconnected system, characterized by larger amount of renewable and distributed energy resources, smart devices and sensors, that can be monitored and controlled in real-time. This emerging paradigm calls for a revamping of the power engineering curriculum, with the goal of developing a workforce that has strong foundational skills in traditional power systems topics, as well as in integrations of renewable and distributed resources and in data analytics (including energy forecasting).

Guiding Question and Outcomes: The Electrical and Computer Engineering Programs at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte and the University of Texas at El Paso have begun the process of adapting existing power engineering courses with new modules on distribution systems, renewable energy systems, and data analytics, i.e. leading to the smart energy systems / smart grids. The curriculum redesign centers not only around the inclusion of these topics of interest, but on incorporating situative pedagogy strategies, in an effort to help students place topics into context and equip them to grasp effects of these emerging changes and technologies. Beyond the traditional curriculum of theory and labs, the collaborative effort has been established to combine the resources, research, and diverse student perspectives to enhance the curriculum of both programs. In an effort to understand how the use of situative pedagogy can enhance the curriculum, concept maps have been selected and utilized as a tool to assess students’ depth of understanding and ability to connect and contextualize important topics. Before adapting four courses across both programs, students developed concept maps of their current understanding of several topics: electric power distribution systems, renewable energy systems, data analytics for power systems operation. Across three courses that span both institutions, new fundamental approaches within the field were adopted. Before and after the additions, students developed concept maps to demonstrate their current understanding of the added topics and their context. The poster will demonstrate the analysis method used to evaluate the concept maps and the preliminary results of the pre-concept assessment. Additionally, a summary of the situative methods implemented in each course will be described with early reflection on their effectiveness.

Broader Impacts: Results of the preliminary assessment through the concept maps and feedback/observations in response of the utilized situative learning strategies will not only guide the project moving further, but will also be insightful in the application and adaptations of these tools, both situative pedagogy and concept maps as evaluation method, in other disciplines.


Courtney Smith-Orr, UNC Charlotte; Paras Mandal, UTEP; Sukumar Kamalasadan, UNC Charlotte