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Effective Educational Methods for Teaching Assistants in a First-Year Engineering MATLAB® Course

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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

SD Technical Session: Tricks of the Trade

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Page Count


Page Numbers

24.455.1 - 24.455.15



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Paper Authors

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joshua jude heeg

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Kyle Flenar University of Cincinnati

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Jordan Alexander Ross


Taylor Okel University of Cincinnati

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Taylor Okel is a Computer Engineering major at the University of Cincinnati. A sophomore at the time of this paper, he had already worked on another research paper, while maintaining a high grade point average and managing to stay active in the community through service projects.

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Tejas Abhijit Deshpande University of Cincinnati

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Sophomore at the University of Cincinnati

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Gregory Warren Bucks University of Cincinnati


Kathleen A. Ossman University of Cincinnati

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Dr. Kathleen Ossman is an Associate Professor in the School of Engineering Education in the College of Engineering and Applied Science at the University of Cincinnati. She teaches courses to freshmen engineering students that require the application of mathematics and physics to solving applied problems from a variety of engineering disciplines and utilize MATLAB for solving computationally intensive problems and analyzing data. She earned a BSEE and MSEE from Georgia Tech in 1982 and a Ph.D. from the University of Florida in 1986. She is a member of IEEE and ASEE.

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Effective Educational Methods for Teaching Assistants in a First-Year Engineering MATLAB® CourseAt a large university in the mid-west, two common courses were introduced during the 2012-2013 school year to provide first-year students with hands-on experiences in engineering and alink between engineering and the required mathematics and science courses. These courses forma two-semester sequence of interdisciplinary courses in which students apply fundamental theoryfrom algebra, trigonometry, calculus and physics to relevant engineering applications.MATLAB® is introduced as a programming tool to enable students to explore engineeringconcepts, to investigate solutions to problems too complex for hand solutions, to analyze andpresent data effectively, and to develop an appreciation of the power and limitations of computertools.The structure of these courses consists of a 55 minute lecture and a 120 minute lab each week.The lab activities are designed so that students are given a description of a real-world typeproblem and asked to develop a MATLAB script to solve it. During lab, groups of 10 students sitat a table with one teaching assistant (TA) who has taken the class before. The TA stays with thisgroup of students for the whole semester. Many students run into errors while attempting tocomplete the lab activities, and the TA’s are the main support for students during lab. Since TA’sare integral to helping students understand the material and relate it to practical engineeringapplications, different techniques are being explored to enhance the effectiveness of TA’s duringlab sessions.Six TA’s will test 3 different educational methods in the lab courses. These methods wereidentified by the TA’s after teaching students for several weeks and analyzing the commonpitfalls encountered by the students. First, TA’s will try to make MATLAB relevant to thestudents since many worry that they will never use MATLAB outside of the class. This will beaccomplished by informing students of problems relevant to their majors that have been solvedwith MATLAB. Next, TA’s will focus on complimenting students on their performance andencouraging them to break up the problem into smaller, more manageable steps, with theintention of helping students who struggle with starting their solutions or feel intimidated withthe idea of programming. Finally, TA’s will go over a simplified version of the lab activity withtheir students in order to remind students of the commands they will need to use and providethem with some initial guidance in starting their own code.The effectiveness of the different methods will be assessed in two ways. First, qualitative data,in the form of observations and informal interviews, will be collected by the TA’s as theyimplement the different methodologies. Second, quantitative data, in the form of studentperformance on exams and homework and lab assignments for both an experimental and controlgroup, will be analyzed to support the results of the qualitative analyses. Care will be taken toensure similar groups of students by looking at a student’s potential based on intended major,prior programming experience, and math ability and by only including students with the sameinstructor.

heeg, J. J., & Flenar, K., & Ross, J. A., & Okel, T., & Deshpande, T. A., & Bucks, G. W., & Ossman, K. A. (2014, June), Effective Educational Methods for Teaching Assistants in a First-Year Engineering MATLAB® Course Paper presented at 2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Indianapolis, Indiana. 10.18260/1-2--20346

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