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Online Matlab/Octave tutorial to help non-computer science engineering students improve programming skills

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2017 Pacific Southwest Section Meeting


Tempe, Arizona

Publication Date

April 20, 2017

Start Date

April 20, 2017

End Date

April 22, 2017

Conference Session

Technical Session 3c

Tagged Topics

Diversity and Pacific Southwest Section

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Paper Authors


Maria Pantoja California Polytechnic State University san Luis Obispo

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Maria Pantoja
Computer Engineering
Computer Science & Software Engineering
Office: 14-211
Phone Number: 805-756-1330
B.S., Universidad Politecnica de Valencia, Spain
Ph.D., Santa Clara University

Research Interests
High Performance Computing
Parallel Computing

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Drazen Fabris Santa Clara University

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Aaron Melman Santa Clara University

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The goal of the project is to integrate interactive tutorials into engineering classes to support students' knowledge, facility, and prior experience with programming. Research1 has shown benefits in using tutorials via mobile and web applications to better engage students and help them learn at their own pace and level. The programming platform will be Matlab/Octave2 which is a programming language initially developed for numerical computations. It is widely used across industry and academia and research institutions. Knowledge in Matlab/Octave is required in many of the engineering job openings, which makes it a very important technical skill that our students have to master for a successful career as engineers. Knowledge of programming and specifically Matlab is a prerequisite for several classes taught at the Schools of Engineering around the country and a Matlab course or equivalent is mandatory for many mechanical and bioengineering students. Just one course (10 weeks, in a quarter system) is clearly not enough to learn to program effectively. To achieve true proficiency, subsequent classes should routinely exercise prior programming skills and techniques. This is especially difficult since the current Matlab course is taken by most students in their freshman/sophomore year, while the required classes using Matlab are usually taken in later years. Students typically remember very little of Matlab and this leads to difficulties on homework and class projects and necessitates significant amount of class time and office hours for reviewing programming concepts. The challenge is to maintain the curriculum for the later classes -what is being learned- while enhancing the learning experience through on-line support of programming concepts. Use of the proposed tool will encourage active participation, provide prompt feedback, and pose challenging but achievable goals. This project will allow students who need review or develop proficiency to work on their own time and at their own pace by following our on-line tutorial. The tutorial will cover the most important programming concepts needed for the later classes. Therefore, the tutorial, while reviewing general programming concepts, will also be targeted to the specific class, and the instructor in charge of the class will be able to create his own content.

Outcome: 1.Online Interactive tutorial 2. Forum with ranking system to enhance response

Methods of assessment: Compare quizzes, midterm scores used in previous years (no video game used) to quizzes taken after students use the video game to visualize some of the most difficult concepts. We will also use student’s teaching evaluation comments to find out if there is an overall improvement in the learning experience. To evaluate the long-term effects, we compare the test results of upper division classes that require programming skills before and after the introduction of the tutorial/forum.

Pantoja, M., & Fabris, D., & Melman, A. (2017, April), Online Matlab/Octave tutorial to help non-computer science engineering students improve programming skills Paper presented at 2017 Pacific Southwest Section Meeting, Tempe, Arizona. 10.18260/1-2--29229

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