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Lessons for Effective Use of MATLAB and Simulink to Explore Advanced Topics: Application in a Vibrations Course

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2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access


Virtual Conference

Publication Date

July 26, 2021

Start Date

July 26, 2021

End Date

July 19, 2022

Conference Session

Computers in Education 10 - Technology 2

Tagged Division

Computers in Education

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Paper Authors


Tristan M. Ericson York College of Pennsylvania

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Dr. Tristan Ericson is an Associate Professor at York College of Pennsylvania and has been teaching there since 2013. Prior to this appointment, he was a Visiting Professor at Bucknell University. His teaching interests include solid mechanics, vibrations, materials science, and MATLAB. He advises the YC Racing FormulaSAE team. His technical research interests include vibrations of planetary gear systems, strengthening 3D printed materials, and making things go faster. He enjoys activities that promote STEM fields in local high schools. He received his PhD from Ohio State University in 2012.

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Computer simulation and computational methods are effective ways to teach course concepts and explore higher-level themes, but the learning curve associated with using these tools in advanced applications is often steep. This paper presents strategies for using MATLAB and Simulink to teach advanced concepts in a senior-level vibrations elective course. The delivery of learning modules was changed and adapted over six years to increase their effectiveness. Despite little change in assignment content, several key adjustments increased the effectiveness of these tools and improved student attitude about the assignments. Successful strategies discussed focus on assignment weight, assignment resources, and balance between learning vs. using the software. All of these ideas reach beyond the particular course and simulation tools used. The effectiveness of improvement strategies is evaluated by student course feedback, assignment performance, and instructor observation.

Advanced topics of the course detailed in this paper include nonlinear systems, iterative solution, multi-degree of freedom systems, and other problems that are too time-consuming to solve analytically, but the strategies for effective use of computational methods are not unique to this field. The paper presents general conclusions with strategies to implement a computer simulation tool like MATLAB/Simulink to teach advanced topics. The learning modules solve difficult problems that would be impossible to solve analytically without advanced graduate level coursework and/or an inappropriately large amount of time.

Over six-years of adapting and changing the learning modules, student success on – and perception of – the assignments improved. Use of computational tools broadens course content delivery by covering topics inaccessible through analytical methods in a first course on the subject matter. It also shows students how computer tools can effectively solve larger engineering problems similar to those encountered beyond undergraduate education.

Ericson, T. M. (2021, July), Lessons for Effective Use of MATLAB and Simulink to Explore Advanced Topics: Application in a Vibrations Course Paper presented at 2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual Conference.

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