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Incorporation Of Fourth Generation Computing Environment Into Freshmen Engineering Program: A Historical Perspective

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2004 Annual Conference


Salt Lake City, Utah

Publication Date

June 20, 2004

Start Date

June 20, 2004

End Date

June 23, 2004



Conference Session

How We Teach Problem Solving?

Page Count


Page Numbers

9.719.1 - 9.719.6



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Paper Authors

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Rich Shiavi

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Christopher Rowe

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

Session 3553

Incorporation of Fourth Generation Computing Environment into a Freshman Engineering Program: An Historical Perspective Christopher Rowe, Richard Shiavi, Jim Tung Vanderbilt University/The MathWorks


Historically, the incorporation of computing into Vanderbilt University School of Engineering’s (VUSE) curricula began in the mid-1960s. Mainframe computers were purchased, and students initially learned computing using the language FORTRAN (formula translation). The early 1980s saw two significant advancements: the introduction of personal computers made computing hardware much more accessible to more people, while the introduction of fourth generation languages such as MATLAB® made it possible to solve real-world problems much more rapidly. This combination of advancements challenged engineering professors to provide students with the most up-to-date tools, techniques, and information.

In 1989, it was decided to introduce VUSE’s first-year engineering students to techniques in engineering computing. The school required a technical computing environment that offered an interactive format that was relatively easy to learn, and applied frequently in varying engineering disciplines in industry. MATLAB, invented by Cleve Moler, co-founder of The MathWorks and longtime professor, had been introduced on the market several years earlier. MATLAB provided an interpretive capability along with an intuitive computing environment for expressing and solving problems. VUSE selected MATLAB as the school’s principal computing environment.

This document will explore how VUSE’s experience with MATLAB has evolved over the last 14 years with the environment’s increasing capabilities. The 14-year history can be divided into three segments: 1989-1995, 1995-2002, and 2002 to present, based on the constantly changing educational demands of an introductory course. Offering integrated computation, data analysis, visualization, and programming in one package, MATLAB’s ease of implementation and widespread use as a technical computing environment has made it appropriate to be used today in an introductory course for teaching computing principles, as well as a unifying environment that supports the development of a coordinated multi-year engineering curriculum.


A common challenge for most engineering schools is designing an introductory course that properly prepares freshmen for upper-level courses while giving them an initial impression of the profession of engineering. Designing a course that provides for a smooth transition to engineering school while effectively using students' already-obtained knowledge is proving to be increasingly difficult for college educators. A component of this situation is the fact that students

Proceedings of the 2004 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition Copyright © 2004, American Society for Engineering Education

Shiavi, R., & Rowe, C. (2004, June), Incorporation Of Fourth Generation Computing Environment Into Freshmen Engineering Program: A Historical Perspective Paper presented at 2004 Annual Conference, Salt Lake City, Utah. 10.18260/1-2--13437

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