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Mind the Gap: A preliminary Investigation into the Gaps Between Faculty and Student Expectations in Engineering Mathematics Instruction

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2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Tampa, Florida

Publication Date

June 15, 2019

Start Date

June 15, 2019

End Date

October 19, 2019

Conference Session

Mathematics Division Technical Session 3

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Paper Authors


Sasha Gollish University of Toronto

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Sasha is a PhD Candidate in Engineering Education in the University of Toronto's Faculty of Applied Science and Engineering Institute for Studies in Transdisciplinary Engineering Education and Practice focusing on the connection of mathematics to engineering. She is also a registered and practicing professional engineer.

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Bryan Karney University of Toronto

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Bryan W. Karney graduated from UBC in Bio-Resource Engineering in 1980 and completed his Ph.D. in Civil Engineering, also for UBC, in 1984. He is currently a professor of Civil Engineering and the Associate Dean of Cross Disciplinary Programs at the University of Toronto. He is also the principal of HydraTek & Associates Inc, a hydraulic transient analysis specialty firm. Dr. Karney is the senior hydraulic transient specialist in the company with almost 30 years of direct experience in providing hydraulic and hydraulic transient consulting services on a wide range of fluid pipe systems, including water, wastewater, oil, gas, and jet fuel. Bryan has spoken and written widely on subjects related to water resource systems, energy issues, hydrology, climate change, engineering education and ethics. He was Associate Editor for the ASCE’s Journal of Hydraulic Engineering from 1993 to 2005. He has written or co-written numerous journal papers and articles, including the book titled “Comprehensive Water Distribution Systems Analysis Handbooks for Engineers and Planners, published by MWH Soft. Bryan has won a number of teaching awards and recognitions including being a finalist in the TVO’s best lecturer competition and received the American Water Works Association’s (AWWA) award for the Best Engineering and Construction Publication Article for 2008. Dr. Karney was awarded the Northrop Frye award for excellence in teaching and research in 2009.

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The connection between mathematics and engineering, that is the ability for students to transfer their knowledge between mathematics courses and other engineering courses, has been documented as difficult for students (Holmegaard, Madsen, & Ulriksen, 2016; Basitere & Ivala, 2015; Klingbeil, Rattan, Raymer, Reynolds, & Mercer, 2009; Willcox & Bounova, 2004; Harper, Baker, & Grzybowski, 2013). By looking at faculty views regarding the mathematics that is learned while in undergraduate engineering, I argue that mathematics plays an important role in undergraduate engineering, yet faculty often believe that the students are inadequately equipped with the mathematics skills they need, which is essential because mathematics is foundational for engineering design. Through a mixed-methods study over the course of the 2017-2018 academic year, we sought to answer the following questions: To what extent does mathematics play an important role in undergraduate engineering education? Do professors believe that undergraduate engineering students can competently apply mathematic principles in engineering classes? And finally, how should mathematics be taught as it relates to undergraduate engineering? The initial findings suggest faculty believe that mathematics plays an important role in engineering, calculus being the most important, with linear algebra and statistics also playing a significant role. Faculty also believe that mathematics should be taught as a means of communicating (i.e. through mathematical modelling). Faculty also believe that students’ competence ranks lower than the importance of the general and specific mathematics skills. Finally, faculty were unsure if mathematics should be taught toward the abstract or the applied, but in general, believe that it should have some examples that are tied to engineering. Mathematics instruction to engineering students is often taught through two lenses, an abstract or an applied lens. While both categories of mathematics are essential in undergraduate engineering, a third paradigm for teaching is offered, an engineering mathematics lens, which combines both the necessity for an understanding both in abstract and applied mathematics, but relates examples to all facets of engineering. An engineering mathematics lens could offer part of a solution to helping to close the gap in faculty and student expectations as it relates to mathematics instruction in engineering education.

Gollish, S., & Karney, B. (2019, June), Mind the Gap: A preliminary Investigation into the Gaps Between Faculty and Student Expectations in Engineering Mathematics Instruction Paper presented at 2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Tampa, Florida. 10.18260/1-2--33110

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