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Teaching Graphical Data Presentation Techniques In An Introductory Materials Course

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2009 Annual Conference & Exposition


Austin, Texas

Publication Date

June 14, 2009

Start Date

June 14, 2009

End Date

June 17, 2009



Conference Session

Professional Development in Materials Engineering

Tagged Division


Page Count


Page Numbers

14.1139.1 - 14.1139.15



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Paper Authors

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Barry Dupen Indiana University-Purdue University, Fort Wayne

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

Teaching Graphical Data Presentation Techniques in an Introductory Materials Course


First-semester freshmen have little experience with engineering graphs. To become successful engineers, students need to develop skills in presenting and interpreting graphical data. An introductory materials course is an ideal place to introduce these concepts because the topic is data-rich, and successful interpretation of graphs leads to understanding of materials engineering and economic concepts. For example, the shape of the liquidus curve on the iron-carbon phase diagram helps explain why cast steels are more expensive to manufacture than cast irons.

In this course, students develop graphical skills from lectures, handouts, and assignments. For example, students plot their own hardness readings together with an empirically-derived ASTM curve, then they evaluate how well their data matches the curve. They create phase diagrams from alloy data. They create stress-strain diagrams from their own laboratory readings, and calculate mechanical properties from the results. They learn how to deal with outliers on a homework assignment. They learn that Excel’s built-in curve-fitting choices do not cover all data patterns, such as the S-curves for impact vs. temperature graphs.

Student performance is assessed with a grading rubric which evaluates graphs within laboratory reports. Low performance on three laboratory reports has led to instructional improvements, including additional focus in the lecture and detailed handouts. Subsequent assessment shows continued improvement in skill levels from one laboratory report to the next, and from one semester to the next.


TAC/ABET requires that engineering technology graduates have an ability to communicate effectively (Criterion 3, Program Outcome g).1 The MET program at IPFW includes two communications courses and three English courses which develop students’ skills in public speaking and technical writing. However, these courses alone do not completely satisfy the TAC/ABET communication criterion; in addition, students need graphical literacy. Learning to create and interpret engineering graphs helps to complete this requirement.

When I started teaching freshman materials classes for MET students, I found that the level of graphical literacy was low. Students did not understand the language of graphs, and many students mistakenly used MS Excel “line” graphs (which are really bar charts) rather than x-y scatter graphs to show relationships between variables. In response, I developed a set of graphical literacy outcomes. By the end of the course, students should be able to:

• create x-y scatter graphs

• understand what plotting “A vs. B” means

• understand dependent & independent variables

Dupen, B. (2009, June), Teaching Graphical Data Presentation Techniques In An Introductory Materials Course Paper presented at 2009 Annual Conference & Exposition, Austin, Texas. 10.18260/1-2--5042

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