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Design Of An Introductory Matlab Course For Freshman Engineering Students

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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

FPD8 -- Introductory Courses

Tagged Division

First-Year Programs

Page Count


Page Numbers

12.458.1 - 12.458.7



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Paper Authors

author page

Darryl Morrell Arizona State University

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

Design of an Introductory MATLAB Course for Freshman Engineering Students

1 Introduction

This paper describes the design and implementation of a one credit-hour MATLAB course for freshman engineering students in the new multi-disciplinary engineering program at Arizona State University at the Polytechnic campus. The course was initially offered in the Spring 2006 semester; based on the spring experience, the course was significantly redesigned for the Fall 2006 semester. The goal of the course design was to teach specific MATLAB and programming concepts within a broader context of developing problem solving skills for real world engineering applications.

1.1 Context

This course was designed in the context of a newly-developed four-year multi-disciplinary engi- neering program. In this program, all students learn a common body of engineering foundation material in their freshman and sophomore years, and then specialize through a primary and sec- ondary concentration in their junior and senior years. Students typically begin a calculus sequence in their first or second semester in the program; the calculus courses use MATLAB extensively. In- formal student feedback indicated that lack of familiarity with MATLAB was a difficulty for many students in the calculus courses. In addition, familiarity with MATLAB, while not a requirement of the freshman engineering courses, was felt by the faculty to be a useful skill. Thus, the MATLAB course was designed as an optional one-credit-hour class for students in their freshman year.

The development of several other MATLAB courses for freshman students has been described in the literature. A course developed at West Virginia University for second-semester freshmen1 is based on the Object Scaffolding approach to teaching MATLAB.2, 3 This approach includes presenting MATLAB within a technical problem solving context, collaborative interaction among students, and progressive coverage of first scalars, then vectors, and then matrices. An initiative to introduce MATLAB to students in the Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering Department (MAE) at University of Florida was undertaken, and the effectiveness of several different formats for and timing in the curriculum was evaluated.4 It was discovered that “low risk” courses (e.g. a course that is not perceived as a “weed-out” course) that relate directly to students’ other coursework are better received by students.

The course that we have developed differs from previous MATLAB courses found in the literature in several ways. First, it is a one credit-hour course rather than all or part of a three credit-hour course and thus covers significantly less content than courses found in the literature. Secondly, it is offered in the context of a multi disciplinary engineering program, rather than as part of a discipline specific engineering program or as a freshman level service course.

1.2 Course Design Challenges

Many of the challenges in the design of the course stem from issues faced by all engineering freshmen. A significant fraction of students do not yet employ a systematic approach to problem solving; most of the students cannot clearly articulate their problem solving approach. Students


Morrell, D. (2007, June), Design Of An Introductory Matlab Course For Freshman Engineering Students Paper presented at 2007 Annual Conference & Exposition, Honolulu, Hawaii. 10.18260/1-2--1654

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