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Improving The Content Of A Freshman Design Course Through Computer Modeling, Experimentation, And Error Analysis

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1999 Annual Conference


Charlotte, North Carolina

Publication Date

June 20, 1999

Start Date

June 20, 1999

End Date

June 23, 1999



Page Count


Page Numbers

4.303.1 - 4.303.9

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Paper Authors

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R. J. Helgeson

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Douglas Sterrett

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

Session 3225

Improving the Content of a Freshman Design Course through Computer Modeling, Experimentation, and Error Analysis J.D. Sterrett and R.J. Helgeson School of Engineering, University of Tennessee at Martin


Several years ago a new design course was added to the freshman engineering curriculum at the University of Tennessee at Martin. Its goals were to introduce the student to the use of the personal computer, and to introduce the engineering design method using team design project competitions1. Recent modifications and enhancements have been added to the course to more realistically reflect a real-life design project. These enhancements include a number of features, all of which attempt to show the relationship between analysis and design. The students employed spreadsheet based mathematical models to optimize key parameters in their design projects. Experiments were carried out to empirically determine energy-related parameters that may affect their design. Finally, limited application of error analysis was introduced by encouraging the students to examine expected performance when key parameters were varied. This paper discusses the success of this modified project approach, and possible improvements that might be incorporated in the future.

Original Structure of the Design Course

The freshman engineering students at UT Martin take a design course in their first semester. This course was developed in response to several factors. In recent years engineering education has come under increasing criticism from the industrial community, and our Industrial Advisory Board, concerning the lack of preparation for teamwork on design projects. In reaction the School of Engineering at UTM has undertaken an extensive revision of its curriculum2, with increased emphasis being placed on communications skills and experience in working as a member of a team. Ideas from Koen3 and a March, 1995 workshop titled "Integrating Design into the Engineering Curriculum"4 have been incorporated into this new course, which is the first of several that will utilize team design projects, written technical reports, and oral presentations. The new program at UTM follows the recommendations contained in the 1994 ASEE report "Engineering Education for a Changing World"5. A textbook was compiled using four modules from the Benjamin / Cummings Engineers Toolkit6, 7, 8, 9. Lecture notes supplement this textbook.

A common complaint from first and second year engineering students is, "I’m studying all this math and science: when do I get to do some engineering?” This design course immediately introduces the student to engineering by means of a team design project, which culminates with a group competition. The students seem to be strongly motivated by the competition. The goals of this course have been:

• To introduce the personal computer as an engineering tool

Helgeson, R. J., & Sterrett, D. (1999, June), Improving The Content Of A Freshman Design Course Through Computer Modeling, Experimentation, And Error Analysis Paper presented at 1999 Annual Conference, Charlotte, North Carolina.

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