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Computer Based Modeling For Engineers Using Excel And Vba

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2007 Annual Conference & Exposition


Honolulu, Hawaii

Publication Date

June 24, 2007

Start Date

June 24, 2007

End Date

June 27, 2007



Conference Session

Educational Software

Tagged Division

Computers in Education

Page Count


Page Numbers

12.391.1 - 12.391.24



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Paper Authors

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Jeff Joines North Carolina State University

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Stephen Roberts North Carolina State University


Dianne Raubenheimer North Carolina State University

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Director of Assessment for the College of Engineering

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


Many engineering curriculum around the country are re-evaluating their introductory computer programming requirement. At our university, several departments have been changing from the traditional Java or C++ course to something more applicable to their discipline. This paper will address the development of a joint course across Industrial and Textile Engineering. Students from both departments were not using their programming knowledge in remaining courses or when they graduated. Furthermore, the introductory Java (C++) class was being taught as a service course to masses of students at one time in our university’s theater. The students were not enthusiastic about the course and certainly not developing the computer modeling skills that we felt were necessary (i.e., given a problem can they develop a method for solving the problem). Therefore, we decided drop the introductory course and develop a new course in Excel and Visual Basic for Applications to better address the needs of our industry and faculty colleagues. This course was not intended to duplicate the traditional computer science method of presenting programming. Our goal was to educate students to model problems relevant to our disciplines, solve these problems using modeling tools, and then analyze these solutions through decision support (i.e., become “power users” and not programmers). This paper will address the critical development of a series of “InClassLabs” and their impact on student learning and our two curricula. Many of our homework and cases studies come from industrial sponsor data and represent real cases. The paper will discuss the fundamental issues that lead the two authors to develop this computer-intensive course. Of special interest is the classroom environment bolstered by the use of in-class teaching assistants and the use of Tablet PCs. Student evaluations are used to provide insight into the teaching strategies employed.


The computing experience in engineering has, on one hand changed dramatically, and yet, on the other hand has not changed very much. Perhaps fifty percent of all engineering courses now employ some form of computing within the course (e.g., Excel, SAS, SolidWorks, Matlab, Maple, etc.). Computing is omnipresent within all engineering courses and most engineering tasks. However the introductory computing course taken by engineers has not fundamentally changed, except for the programming language. Engineering faculty who make a programming/computing assignment cannot depend on their students having the same programming language, let alone a uniform programming experience. To complicate matters further many of our students took their introductory programming course at regional community colleges. It has been observed that anyone foolish enough to make a programming assignment almost surely risks lowering their course evaluation. Borrowing an idiom “the more computing changes, the more the introductory programming course remains the same.” Can the introductory programming course be changed to render it more beneficial both to the students and the faculty? Can we identify a rationale that allows us to create a more relevant computing experience? In this paper we make several s regarding the computing experience for engineers and suggest that there are other approaches to this course. We describe our own “solution.”

Joines, J., & Roberts, S., & Raubenheimer, D. (2007, June), Computer Based Modeling For Engineers Using Excel And Vba Paper presented at 2007 Annual Conference & Exposition, Honolulu, Hawaii. 10.18260/1-2--3035

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