An Individual Investigator Development Plan to Improve Undergraduate Debugging Skills and Mindset
Effective Years: 2023-2026
This project serves the national interest of semiconductor workforce development by understanding how to teach circuit debugging in undergraduate courses. As the transistor count and complexity of today’s chips grow, thanks to Moore’s Law, fewer new chips can work perfectly for the first time. Hence, a high level of engineering effort is put into debugging, a process that identifies and fixes any discrepancies between the expected and measured chip behavior. This project seeks to explore how immersive and domain-specific training can significantly enhance undergraduate students’ ability to debug complex circuits and improve their overall approach and mindset to problem-solving. In parallel to the research component, the principal investigator will participate in an intensive professional development plan to expand his knowledge and skills in study design, quantitative methods, and educational psychology. Other potential benefits of this project include increased employability and career prospects, strengthened industry-academia collaboration, and reduced debug time and cost in new product development.
The goal of the project is to design a rigorous pilot study to infer a causal relationship and quantify how much a holistic and domain-specific debug training intervention improves undergraduates’ circuit debugging skills and mindset. The PI will adopt design-based research to create the intervention and a quasi-experimental design to study the impact. The cognitive portion of the intervention will include teaching common circuit issues and global debugging strategies adapted from industry content. The affective component will consist of mandatory bug reporting and extra credit incentives for students to participate in building root cause tables. The debugging mindset will be measured using established instruments. The debugging performance will be tested via custom-developed tools validated by industry experts. This project will advance our understanding of how to teach debugging in college. The project is supported by NSF’s EDU Core Research: Building Capacity in STEM Education Research (ECR: BCSER) program, which is designed to build investigators’ capacity to carry out high-quality STEM education research.
This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.