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Experiments for a Freshman Engineering Computing Course

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2013 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Atlanta, Georgia

Publication Date

June 23, 2013

Start Date

June 23, 2013

End Date

June 26, 2013



Conference Session

Computers in Education Division - General Technical Session 2

Tagged Division

Computers in Education

Page Count


Page Numbers

23.575.1 - 23.575.15

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Paper Authors


Charles H. Forsberg Hofstra University

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Dr. Forsberg is a professor emeritus of Hofstra University in Hempstead, NY where he taught lecture and laboratory courses primarily in the thermal/fluids area of mechanical engineering. He is currently active in the Energy Engineering area.

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Experiments for a Freshman Engineering Computing CourseThe author teaches the Computer Programming for Engineers course, which is a required coursefor all engineering freshmen in all disciplines. The course is about 2/3 Matlab and 1/3 Excel.We have a variety of students. Some are eager to learn and highly motivated. Others are muchless enthusiastic. To make the course interesting and relevant, we use problems from scienceand engineering as much as possible. The problems are specifically chosen to illustrate thevarious topics covered in the computing course and show the usefulness of the computer in theirsolution. Special emphasis is given to choosing problems that are of general interest to all thestudents, regardless of engineering discipline. The problems require the students to be familiarwith algebra, trigonometry, and elementary concepts of integral calculus. It has been observedthat some students are deficient in one or more of these areas.Through outcome assessments, we have found that students have particular difficulty withproblems involving simultaneous equations and problems involving curve fitting; i. e.,determining functions to model experimental data. The course limits these functions topolynomial, power, and exponential functions. The students especially have difficulty fittingdata to power and exponential functions. However, surprisingly, they also have some difficultywith linear functions.We have added experiments to the computing course in an effort to enhance student motivationand understanding. The literature contains some information about this having been done forlecture classes in other curricular areas. However, there is little in the literature about theaddition of experiments to freshman engineering computer courses.The experiments are portable and can be moved on carts for easy transport to and from thecomputer room. They have been specifically chosen to cover the difficult areas of the course.There is an electrical circuit experiment for the simultaneous equations topic, a fluid mechanics(i. e., weir) experiment for curve fitting of power functions, and a heat transfer experiment (i. e.,cooling of a metal cube) for curve fitting of exponential functions. There is also an experimentinvolving a cantilever beam. Loading weights at the end of the beam illustrates curve fitting of alinear function, and vibration of the beam illustrates the solution of a single implicit function todetermine the various modes of vibration.The paper includes a detailed description of the experiments. It also includes an assessment ofthe experiments' impact on student motivation and understanding. The assessment is made via astudent survey and the author's evaluation of student performance.

Forsberg, C. H. (2013, June), Experiments for a Freshman Engineering Computing Course Paper presented at 2013 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Atlanta, Georgia.

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