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Teaching "Computer Tools" In A Workshop Format

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1997 Annual Conference


Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Publication Date

June 15, 1997

Start Date

June 15, 1997

End Date

June 18, 1997



Page Count


Page Numbers

2.383.1 - 2.383.5

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Surendra K. Gupta

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

Session 3220

Teaching “Computer Tools” in a Workshop Format

Surendra K. Gupta Rochester Institute of Technology


Mechanical engineering freshmen at RIT take 342-Problem Solving with Computers as the introductory computer course. 342 replaces the traditional course in Fortran Programming. Students now develop function subprograms in Visual Basic for Applications (VBA) within the Microsoft Excel environment. 342 emphasizes software tools such as a spreadsheet, word processor and symbolic computational system. Skilled in such software tools, students are submitting improved home assignments and lab reports in their subsequent science and engineering courses.

Many 2-year and 4-year colleges have not updated their introductory computer courses to include such software tools. To accommodate students transferring into the third year from such colleges, the department developed a 1-credit 441-Computer Tools course. In the last two years, the course was offered in a five-week hands-on lab tutorial format. Two-hour tutorials were held twice a week in the department’s PC lab to acclimatize students to PC-based software tools. Student evaluations indicated that this format was not providing timely support to 440-Numerical Methods and 413-Thermodynamics students took concurrently.

This Fall (19961), 441 was offered in a weekend workshop format (the first two Saturdays of the Fall quarter). The development of the new format was financially supported by a 1996-97 Provost’s Productivity & Teaching Innovation Grant. The course content was divided into eight largely independent instructional modules. A detailed Users’ Guide was prepared. Each module consists of an instructor-led hands-on tutorial, an engineering or science application to provide the context or relevance, and an in-lab exercise to reinforce the lesson. Students evaluated the workshop in regard to its content, instruction, teaching aids, lab facilities, and relevance to other courses. The evaluations indicate that the new format has been successful.

Historical Perspective

By the early 1980s, almost all mechanical engineering programs required their freshmen or sophomores to take a course in higher-level programming language (primarily Fortran, C or Basic). Most programs required students to take an additional course in Numerical Methods1,2. With skills students developed in these two courses, they were able to write programs for engineering design and analysis projects, and to develop data acquisition and analysis software for experimental projects in their upper division courses.

By the late 1980s, with the personal computer (PC) revolution underway, many upper-division technical courses relied almost exclusively on specialized software packages that were

Gupta, S. K. (1997, June), Teaching "Computer Tools" In A Workshop Format Paper presented at 1997 Annual Conference, Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

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