Asee peer logo

A Study On The Effects Of Timing On Engineering Students’ Abilities To Solve Open Ended Problems With Computers

Download Paper |


2007 Annual Conference & Exposition


Honolulu, Hawaii

Publication Date

June 24, 2007

Start Date

June 24, 2007

End Date

June 27, 2007



Conference Session

Introducing Active and Inductive Learning and Improving the Learning Curve in ME

Tagged Division

Mechanical Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

12.130.1 - 12.130.11



Permanent URL

Download Count


Request a correction

Paper Authors


Veronica Addison University of South Carolina

visit author page

Veronica Addison is a Ph.D. Candidate in Mechanical Engineering at the University of South
Carolina and a former GK-12 Fellow. Her research and teaching interests include sustainability,
the built environment, energy and environmental design.

visit author page


Christian Hipp University of South Carolina

visit author page

Christian Hipp is a Ph.D. Candidate in Philosophy at the University of South Carolina. His research interests include applied ethics, demarcation criteria in genetic domains and convergent technologies.

visit author page


Jed Lyons University of South Carolina

visit author page

Jed Lyons is a Professor of Mechanical Engineering and the Faculty Director of the Center for Teaching Excellence at the University of South Carolina. His passion is engaging learners of all ages in the processes of inquiry and discovery through active engagement and problem-situation

visit author page

Download Paper |

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

A Study of the Effects of Timing on Engineering Students’ Abilities to Solve Open-ended Problems with Computers


This paper presents the design and preliminary results of an exploratory research project to determine the best ways to introduce computer algebra and symbolic manipulation software into the early undergraduate mechanical engineering curriculum. This paper discusses one component of the exploratory project that focuses specifically on how the timing of introducing MathCAD affects student attitudes and performance in a sophomore-level numerical methods course at the University of South Carolina. An experiment was conducted in the Fall semester of 2006 with a class of sixty students. The class was divided into two groups that received differentiated instruction at four times during the semester. The experimental group completed a computer assignment before going to lecture; the control group heard the lecture and then completed the computer assignment. Qualitative data was collected on each group by three participant observers who followed the students daily, and also through focus groups and interviews conducted by the authors. Quantitative data included student performance on the computer assignments, subsequent quizzes and other graded assignments. A preliminary analysis of the qualitative and quantitative data suggests that the students in the experimental group were less happy, but tended to perform better on some assignments, than those in the control group.


Considerable research has been conducted on students’ attitudes and abilities related to computers1-7, and on the use of computers as supplements or extensions to more traditional teaching modes8-13. Some research has also been conducted on the role of the computer in developing student problem solving skills14-18. However, the authors are aware of only one study that deals specifically with the effect of how timing the introduction of a computer tool affects learning. Apkan19 compared computer simulation of dissection of frog with actual dissection and reported that a simulation used before dissection led to better achievement performance than a simulation used after dissection. The research related in this paper contributes to our understanding of how timing the introduction of the computer as a solution tool affects student performance.

The context for this study is a numerical methods course for mechanical engineers at the University of South Carolina. This particular course involves extensive use of the software program MathCAD. The application of MathCAD software is of interest to many in the engineering education community. For example, the use of MathCAD is reported in over three hundred papers in the Annual Conference Proceedings of the American Society of Engineering Education between 1996 and 2006. In most cases, MathCAD is used as a course enhancement: students solve problems with the software after they have learned the theory, methodology, or concept being taught. This approach has been traditionally followed in our numerical methods course, also. However, in the Fall semester of 2006, an exploratory research project was initiated to investigate alternative approaches.

Addison, V., & Hipp, C., & Lyons, J. (2007, June), A Study On The Effects Of Timing On Engineering Students’ Abilities To Solve Open Ended Problems With Computers Paper presented at 2007 Annual Conference & Exposition, Honolulu, Hawaii. 10.18260/1-2--2249

ASEE holds the copyright on this document. It may be read by the public free of charge. Authors may archive their work on personal websites or in institutional repositories with the following citation: © 2007 American Society for Engineering Education. Other scholars may excerpt or quote from these materials with the same citation. When excerpting or quoting from Conference Proceedings, authors should, in addition to noting the ASEE copyright, list all the original authors and their institutions and name the host city of the conference. - Last updated April 1, 2015