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This paper presents the preliminary outcome of an ongoing study conducted on engineering students in a non-major course in electrical engineering. The goal of this study is to better understand the reasons for lower levels of performance in non-major engineering courses. We accomplish this by assessing student perceptions and attitudes towards learning, and measuring their understanding of core concepts related to a specific topic. Analyses of data collected to-date points towards some inherent flaws in common teaching methodology. We anticipate that this study will lead to a restructuring of these service courses to make them more relevant and conceptually grounded. Additionally, the development of reliable subject specific instruments as used in this study could be the basis for a broader framework which could be used for other engineering courses.