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Teaching Undergraduate Controls To Non Electrical Engineering Students

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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

6.963.1 - 6.963.13



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Paper Authors

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Kenneth Kelmer

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James Thrower

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Larry Silverberg

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Scott Kiefer

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

Session 2663

Teaching Undergraduate Controls to Non-Electrical Engineering Students

Scott Kiefer1, Larry Silverberg2, James Patrick Thrower2, Kenneth Kelmer2 1 University of Puerto Rico, Mayagüez / 2North Carolina State University


The manner in which undergraduate controls courses are taught to non-electrical engineering students faces particular challenges. Even our brightest students can be dissatisfied. A frequently heard student comment is “I got an ‘A’, but I still don't know what controls is.”

This paper discusses the challenge of teaching undergraduate controls to non-electrical engineering majors and proposes curriculum modifications that are tailored to non-electrical engineering students. Specifically, six instructional hands-on laboratory experiments and an updated course outline are proposed. The goal was to make students more comfortable with control theory by using hands on examples and tailoring lectures to non-electrical students. In order to measure the success of the curriculum changes, all students were given a written survey when they completed the course, a sampling of students were chosen at random for personal interviews, and standard course evaluations were examined. The student responses indicated the changes were successful.

1. Introduction

The origin of the difficulties associated with teaching controls to non-electrical engineering majors may lie in certain historical factors. In the earliest years of American education, controls was taught to electrical engineering majors as a required course. After the second world war, with the development of radar and aircraft, controls courses spread to other disciplines5 in engineering1. To this day, a survey performed by the authors confirms, the majority of controls textbooks are written by professors affiliated with electrical engineering departments, even though the number of US undergraduates majoring in mechanical engineering is about the same as the number of undergraduates majoring in electrical engineering.

Currently undergraduate textbooks in introductory controls are tailored to serving the needs of undergraduate curricula in electrical engineering. This would not be a problem if the differences between the needs in electrical engineering and non-electrical engineering were insubstantial. However, the authors have observed the contrary appears to be the case. This paper suggests that there exist two basic differences between the electrical engineering and non- electrical engineering curricula that are responsible for present difficulties in teaching controls to non-electrical engineering majors.

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

Kelmer, K., & Thrower, J., & Silverberg, L., & Kiefer, S. (2001, June), Teaching Undergraduate Controls To Non Electrical Engineering Students Paper presented at 2001 Annual Conference, Albuquerque, New Mexico. 10.18260/1-2--9883

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