Asee peer logo

Strategies For Teaching Computer Skills To First Year Students

Download Paper |


2001 Annual Conference


Albuquerque, New Mexico

Publication Date

June 24, 2001

Start Date

June 24, 2001

End Date

June 27, 2001



Page Count


Page Numbers

6.895.1 - 6.895.12

Permanent URL

Download Count


Request a correction

Paper Authors

author page

Larry Richards

Download Paper |

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

Multi Media Session: Paper 2171

Strategies for Teaching Computer Skills to First-Year Engineering Students Larry G. Richards University of Virginia


What computer skills should freshman Engineering students master? How should they learn these skills? At the University of Virginia, a first year Introduction to Engineering course emphasizes spreadsheets (Excel), Computer Aided Design (SilverScreen), and a mathematics problem solving and symbolic manipulation program (MathCAD), as well as Internet and World Wide Web skills. A series of scripts (lab lessons) leads the students through selected capabilities of each program. Our approach stresses minimalist learning – the students learn the essential commands and capabilities of each program, and then elaborate these on their own. The scripts include some instructions that cause errors or lead to problems. This forces the students to think about the limitations of the software, and how to overcome them. They also learn that all software has flaws. Each lesson has an associated assignment to be completed outside the lab. Two major projects include developing a personal webpage, and a CAD design competition. This paper includes examples of student work and sample scripts.

1. Introduction

In their first year at the University of Virginia (UVa), our students are exposed to two computer laboratory experiences. The first semester they take Introduction to Engineering and, in the second semester, Introduction to Computer Science. The latter course introduces computer programming using C++; the former uses applications programs to solve problems in engineering and applied science.

Computing applications and engineering problem solving are taught in the lecture and lab sections of a first year, first semester Introduction to Engineering course. This course includes design workshops as well. The design workshops involve three team based design projects. As the semester progresses, the material from lectures and labs is integrated into the design projects.

Our goal is to develop our students’ computing skills from the very start of their educational experience. The first lab introduces the computing environment at UVa, and covers basic use of the Internet and World Wide Web. In subsequent weeks, Excel, SilverScreen and MathCAD are each introduced with a couple of lessons and then

Proceedings of the 2001 American Society of Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition Copyright © 2001, American Society of Engineering Education

Richards, L. (2001, June), Strategies For Teaching Computer Skills To First Year Students Paper presented at 2001 Annual Conference, Albuquerque, New Mexico.

ASEE holds the copyright on this document. It may be read by the public free of charge. Authors may archive their work on personal websites or in institutional repositories with the following citation: © 2001 American Society for Engineering Education. Other scholars may excerpt or quote from these materials with the same citation. When excerpting or quoting from Conference Proceedings, authors should, in addition to noting the ASEE copyright, list all the original authors and their institutions and name the host city of the conference. - Last updated April 1, 2015