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Enhancing the Experience in a First-year Engineering Course Through the Incorporation of Graphical Programming and Data Acquisition Technology

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2012 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


San Antonio, Texas

Publication Date

June 10, 2012

Start Date

June 10, 2012

End Date

June 13, 2012



Conference Session

FPD IV: Innovative Curriculum Elements of Successful First-year Courses

Tagged Division

First-Year Programs

Page Count


Page Numbers

25.576.1 - 25.576.17



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Paper Authors


Gregory Warren Bucks Ohio Northern University

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Gregory Bucks graduated with his Ph.D. in 2010 from the School of Engineering Education at Purdue University. He received his B.S.E.E. from the Pennsylvania State University and his M.S.E.C.E. from Purdue University. While at Purdue, he has been heavily involved with the EPICS program, as well as working with the First-year Engineering program. He is currently a visiting Assistant Professor in the electrical and computer engineering and computer science department at Ohio Northern University.

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William C. Oakes Purdue University, West Lafayette Orcid 16x16

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Enhancing the Experience in a First-Year Engineering Course Through theIncorporation of Graphical Programming and Data Acquisition TechnologyMany first-year engineering curricula either include a course on computing or integratecomputing within one of the introductory courses. There is significant evidence thatstudents in these introductory programming courses have difficulty both learning andapplying the concepts traditionally covered. One reason for this discrepancy between thelearning outcomes desired by instructors and student performance is that the instructionalmethods used, and the very nature of the material, does not match well with the learningstyles of most engineering students.Many different models have been developed to understand the learning styles of students.One of the most commonly used within engineering education is the Felder-Silvermanlearning styles model, implemented in the Index of Learning Styles (ILS) tool. Using thisassessment, studies have found that engineering students tend toward visual and sensingstyles of learning. However, since most programming languages taught in introductorycourses are text based the students’ preferred learning styles often do not match with theteaching methods and material presented as interpretation of the written word, whilepresented in a visual manner, is processed in the same manner as spoken words.Along these same lines, engineers tend to prefer more active styles of learning. In mostcourses on computing, activities traditionally focus on the generation of code to solve aspecific problem. While these activities may be active, the hands-on element still liesentirely within the computer and may still be difficult to grasp for those students whoprefer more concrete examples. By making full use of the computer as a tool that caninteract with real world phenomena through the use of data acquisition and controlhardware, more active and hands-on computing activities can be created to engagestudents traditionally put off by the abstract activities traditional to computing classes.One promising avenue to explore in an attempt to address these issues is the use ofgraphical programming environments. Graphical programming environments allow theuser to create programs by connecting together graphical icons representing differentfunctions. Newly developed hardware allows students to take very small data acquisitionsystems home and do experiments. A hypothesis is that using environments such as thesecould help students who tend to learn better from visual presentations, because thegraphical nature of the program will help to make the structures easier to comprehend.Results from prior studies as well as the perceived continued potential to enhance first-year student learning motivated this use of the new hardware systems and graphicalprogramming as well as the study of its impact at a large university’s introductoryengineering class. The traditional class was modified to use graphical programming asthe dominant computer tool along with the integration of data acquisition and controlhardware. This paper will discuss the curricular structure, the implementation of thegraphical programming language and hardware component, examples from the class, andinitial assessments from the experience in the form of interviews, focus groups, and classsurveys.

Bucks, G. W., & Oakes, W. C. (2012, June), Enhancing the Experience in a First-year Engineering Course Through the Incorporation of Graphical Programming and Data Acquisition Technology Paper presented at 2012 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, San Antonio, Texas. 10.18260/1-2--21333

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