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A Change In Approach To Engineering Computing For Freshmen Similar Directions At Three Dissimilar Institutions

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2001 Annual Conference


Albuquerque, New Mexico

Publication Date

June 24, 2001

Start Date

June 24, 2001

End Date

June 27, 2001



Page Count


Page Numbers

6.9.1 - 6.9.8



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Paper Authors

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Steven Chapra

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Gary Huvard

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David E. Clough

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Session 1520

A Change in Approach to Engineering Computing for Freshmen – Similar Directions at Three Dissimilar Institutions

David E. Clough, Steven C. Chapra, and Gary S. Huvard University of Colorado / Tufts University / Virginia Commonwealth University


Introductory computing courses for engineering students at Tufts University, the University of Colorado, and Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) have undergone revision and development over the past year. Although the scope of these courses differs among the three institutions, similar threadlines have emerged. These include emphases on engineering problem solving, elementary numerical methods, and algorithmic programming. Software vehicles include Mathcad, Matlab, and, in particular, Excel and its VBA programming language. Use of a traditional, stand-alone programming language, such as Fortran or C/C++, is postponed beyond these introductory courses. There are strong, relevant pedagogical and practical bases for this common approach and results from initial course offerings are most promising.


The teaching of introductory computing at the freshman level has long been fraught with controversy and emotion, possibly far more than deserved. Those most opinionated are often the most out of touch: they don’t do much computing themselves; they are isolated from the day-to- day computing activities of engineering professionals; and/or they are unfamiliar with the teaching of 17-year-olds just out of high school. A rational approach to introductory computing is based on the real needs of students and professionals. These should be assessed through survey, study and evaluation, and then used as the basis for curriculum design. We believe we have done this.

There have been tendencies across the US to go in one of two directions when it comes to introductory computing for engineering students:

1) The "tools" approach. Here, the focus is on the built-in capabilities of a number of software packages. Students solve a variety of engineering problems within the confines of the software’s menu options. The features of the software define the scope of the problem solving. Engineering faculty usually teach this course.

2) The "CS101" approach. This is an introductory course in computer programming, most often taught as a service course by the computer science department. From the late 60’s to the early 90’s, Fortran was usually the language of choice for engineering students, although Pascal was used for a number of years. The current trend for this course is to use the C/C++ language as a vehicle, a choice apparently driven by the GUI requirements of personal

Proceedings of the 2001 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition Copyright 2001, American Society for Engineering Education

Chapra, S., & Huvard, G., & Clough, D. E. (2001, June), A Change In Approach To Engineering Computing For Freshmen Similar Directions At Three Dissimilar Institutions Paper presented at 2001 Annual Conference, Albuquerque, New Mexico. 10.18260/1-2--8992

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