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Mathinsite: Web Based Support For Deepening The Mathematical Insight Of Engineering Undergraduates

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2002 Annual Conference


Montreal, Canada

Publication Date

June 16, 2002

Start Date

June 16, 2002

End Date

June 19, 2002



Conference Session

Enhancing Engineering Math with Technology

Page Count


Page Numbers

7.844.1 - 7.844.8



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Peter Edwards

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Session 1465

MathinSite: web-based support for deepening the mathematical insight of engineering undergraduates

Peter Edwards

School of Design, Electronics and Computing, Bournemouth University, UK


Many engineering undergraduates have problems with mathematics. Even areas of school mathematics – invariably including algebra - sometimes have to be reinforced at undergraduate level. A bar to learning is often a lack of an understanding and this is where visualisations sometimes help - either by setting problems in an engineering context, or by using graphical visualisations. In the latter case, the maxim, “A picture is worth a thousand words” is most appropriate.

Even if students have problems rearranging mathematical equations, they can, almost always, “read”, understand and draw graphs. Now a graph is basically a visualisation of a mathematical equation, be it as simple as the straight-line equation or as complicated as the solution of a second-order partial differential equation. Consequently, displaying the graph of (i.e. visualising) an equation can help deepen student understanding of the mathematics behind that equation. During the early 1990s, the author wrote and presented for student use some graphical mathematics software 1 using Visual Basic. Through its use, students began to realise what was happening with the equations they were investigating - and realised that engineering mathematics could be enjoyable (evidenced, in part, by students talking and enthusing about mathematics, and using the software in their own time).

With the bursary accompanying a UK National Teaching Fellowship 2, the author is currently developing the above-mentioned work into the MathinSite3 web site using interactive Java applets with a strong graphical content.

This paper will discuss the rationale and philosophy behind the use of MathinSite in deepening engineering students’ mathematical understanding - a rationale and philosophy that could be adopted in other areas of engineering education.


It is fairly obvious to anyone who has been present at an undergraduate engineering examination board recently that analytical subjects, mathematics in particular, cause more students to fail than non-analytical subjects. This seems to have worsened over the last ten years or so and the problem has been well documented in the UK through papers such as those by Howson4, James5 and Sutherland and Pozzi 6.

Proceedings of the 2002 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition Copyright Ó 2002, American Society for Engineering Education

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Edwards, P. (2002, June), Mathinsite: Web Based Support For Deepening The Mathematical Insight Of Engineering Undergraduates Paper presented at 2002 Annual Conference, Montreal, Canada. 10.18260/1-2--11329

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