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From C++ To Mathcad: Teaching An Introductory Programming Course With A Non Traditional Programming Language

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1998 Annual Conference


Seattle, Washington

Publication Date

June 28, 1998

Start Date

June 28, 1998

End Date

July 1, 1998



Page Count


Page Numbers

3.296.1 - 3.296.7

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Paper Authors

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J. A. Murden

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K. P. Brannan

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

Session 1253

From C++ to Mathcad: Teaching an Introductory Programming Course with a Non-Traditional Programming Language K. P. Brannan, J. A. Murden The Citadel


Mathcad has replaced C++ as the language of the introductory programming course taught in the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department at The Citadel. Advantages and disadvantages associated with the switch are discussed in the paper. A comparison is made between the Mathcad-based programming course and the previous versions of the course taught using traditional programming languages. An evaluation of students’ use of Mathcad a year after completing the Mathcad-based course is included and compared to those students who had taken the C++ version of the course. In addition, the classroom approach taken to teach the course is discussed.


Over the past few decades, engineering schools have placed a high priority on incorporating computer technology into the engineering curriculum. This has been no incidental achievement. The invention of the computer and the impact that the computer has had on numerical, informational, and graphical methods in teaching and research were included by the ASEE Centennial Recognition Committee in the ten most outstanding engineering education and engineering technology achievements of the past century1. Many schools began teaching computer skills early to ensure that students have a thorough exposure to the potential of the computer in engineering applications.

Introductory computer courses have historically involved the use of traditional computer languages such as FORTRAN, BASIC, Pascal, or C++ to solve engineering problems. Although FORTRAN has been in use for over forty years, it has undergone many changes and is still the language of choice of many engineering departments. As the use of the personal computer has grown, alternatives to FORTRAN such as BASIC and eventually Visual BASIC have gained acceptance. Currently, C++ is often considered the “language of choice” by many in the computer industry.

The introductory programming course in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at The Citadel has undergone a number of transitions in the last ten to fifteen years. After teaching FORTRAN and/or BASIC on a VAX system for a number of years, an emphasis on desktop computing led to the adoption of QuickBASIC in 1990 as the department’s standard programming language. In 1994, the Department adopted C++ as its standard programming language after a detailed evaluation2. C++ provided more extensive multi-platform support than had been available with the previous languages and also supported Object Oriented Programming.

Murden, J. A., & Brannan, K. P. (1998, June), From C++ To Mathcad: Teaching An Introductory Programming Course With A Non Traditional Programming Language Paper presented at 1998 Annual Conference, Seattle, Washington.

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