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An Interactive Programming Course Model for Mechanical Engineering Students

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2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Indianapolis, Indiana

Publication Date

June 15, 2014

Start Date

June 15, 2014

End Date

June 18, 2014



Conference Session

Programming, Simulation, and Dynamic Modeling

Tagged Division

Mechanical Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

24.170.1 - 24.170.23



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Paper Authors


Shanon Marie Reckinger Fairfield University

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Shanon Reckinger joined the department of Mechanical Engineering at Fairfield University in Fall 2011. She received her PhD in Mechanical Engineering at the University of Colorado Boulder in August of 2011. Her research interests include ocean modeling, computational fluid dynamics, fluid dynamics, and numerical methods. At Fairfield she has taught courses in thermodynamics, numerical methods (graduate), fluid dynamics, gas dynamics (graduate), computational fluid dynamics (graduate), fundamentals of engineering, mathematical analysis in MATLAB.

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Scott James Reckinger Brown University

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Scott Reckinger is a postdoctoral research assistant in the department of Geological Sciences at Brown University. Scott received his PhD in Mechanical Engineering in May, 2013 at the University of Colorado Boulder (UCB). His research interests include climate modeling, computational fluid dynamics, and numerical methods. He has taught and guest lectured in fluid dynamics, numerical methods, classical physics, mathematics for engineers, and computational fluid dynamics at Fairfield University and UCB.

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An Interactive Programming Course Model for Mechanical Engineering StudentsProgramming is a crucial skill for today’s engineering student. The majority of mechanicalengineering programs in the US include an “introduction to programming” course taken duringthe first or second year. The primary goal of the course is to providing students with the basicprogramming techniques that are required to excel in specific mechanical engineering fields ofstudy. Additionally, the course aims to develop a variety of skills that transcend all scientificdisciplines, including problem solving, logical reasoning, debugging, and software training. Acourse in programming can be challenging for many students choosing to major in mechanicalengineering. The major attracts students with diverse backgrounds and a wide variety ofacademic interests. It is uncommon for students to choose to study mechanical engineeringbecause of their interest in programming or modeling. This often leads to a disconnect betweenthe students and the instructor, which can create an intimidating classroom environment. Thework presented here is driven by these findings.A new programming course has been developed to address the problems existing in the originalcourse model, which include: (a) the course being offered outside of an engineering department,(b) the extreme variability in the rate at which the students comprehend the material, and (c) thefrustration of new programmers, especially with debugging. Backward course design [I] wasused to redesign the course, addressing all of the existing problems. First, the new coursefocuses on engineering specific computational applications, is taught by a MechanicalEngineering professor, and uses a more practical programming language, MATLAB. Thus, theessentials of programming are introduced within a focused framework that cultivates thedevelopment of analytical tools commonly used in engineering disciplines, such as statistics, dataanalysis, numerical differentiation and integration, and Fourier analysis. Second, the Process-Oriented Guided Inquiry Learning (POGIL) method [II] is used so that students are self-guidedthrough part of the instruction. Lastly, class time is organized in such a way that the instructorspends over half of the time working directly with individuals and small groups. This gives thestudents an opportunity to have explanations individually catered to their level of understanding,as well as plenty of time for peer and instructor assistance with debugging.The course initially ran under the new model in Spring, 2013. Feedback from the studentsindicated that they benefitted greatly from the course design. Improvements for the seconditeration of the new course model, which will occur in Spring, 2014, include lengthening thecourse from 2.5 hours per week to 4 hours per week, utilizing more traditional lecture,incorporating class discussions, adding instructor created supplementary video content in theessence of classroom flipping [III], and integrating an overarching humanitarian theme to allassignments in an effort to support the liberal arts goals of the university.[I] Siegel, C., Putting the Pieces Together: Linking Learning Outcomes, Assessment andCurriculum”, Center for Academic Excellence: Summer Institute on Integrative Learning.Fairfield University, 2012[II] Farrell, J. J., R. S. Moog, J. N. Spencer, "A Guided Inquiry Chemistry Course." J. Chem.Educ., 1999, 76, 570-574[III] Bergmann, J., A. Sams, “Flip Your Classroom: Reach Every Student in Every Class EveryDay”, International Society for Technology in Education, 2012

Reckinger, S. M., & Reckinger, S. J. (2014, June), An Interactive Programming Course Model for Mechanical Engineering Students Paper presented at 2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Indianapolis, Indiana. 10.18260/1-2--20061

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