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The Effects Of Prior Computer Experiences In Considering Engineering Students' Ability To Solve Open Ended Problems

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2007 Annual Conference & Exposition


Honolulu, Hawaii

Publication Date

June 24, 2007

Start Date

June 24, 2007

End Date

June 27, 2007



Conference Session

Programming for Engineering Students

Tagged Division

Computers in Education

Page Count


Page Numbers

12.1417.1 - 12.1417.8



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Paper Authors

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Christian Hipp University of South Carolina

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Veronica Addison University of South Carolina

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

The effects of prior computer experiences in considering engineering students’ ability to solve open-ended problems

ABSTRACT This paper relates one part of a National Science Foundation (NSF) funded, exploratory research project in the Course, Curriculum, and Laboratory Improvement Program (CCLI). The research project’s objective is to determine the best ways to introduce computing into early undergraduate mechanical engineering curriculum, focusing particularly on numerical methods and analysis. Given the importance of computing in professional engineering practice, this project seeks to improve students’ facility with computers while moving away from ‘cookbook’ approaches which emphasize software-specific skills at the expense of more fundamental mathematical and conceptual knowledge.

One aspect of this research project was to determine what computer experiences (STEM -- Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics -- or otherwise) students have when they enter college-level engineering classes. We surveyed sophomore engineering students in “Introduction to Applied Numerical Methods” (EMCH 201). Along with a freshman course in Graphics and Visualization, Numerical Methods constitutes one of the two engineering courses in which beginning students first use computers for engineering applications. The technical platform in EMCH 201 is a symbolic manipulator, currently Mathcad.i This survey attempted to gauge both their previous experiences with computers and their assumptions about how to use them, what computers do well, and when, whether, and why they trust the results provided by computers. The surveys focused on three issues: prior computer experience, student assumptions about computers, and extent of their trust in computer-generated solutions.

INTRODUCTION Arguably, our students have lived their whole lives in the era of everyday computing. Consequently, when they take engineering classes in college, professors are hardly ‘introducing’ them to computers; rather, they are showing new applications. Thus, engineering educators need to understand better the pre-existing experiences and assumptions students have about computing, and exploit those tendencies for better comprehension of engineering concepts whether computer-aided or not.

To think that students’ cookbook expectations come solely from engineering classes is naïve – ‘cookbook’ approaches also dominate software instructional methods. From the time a student first loads a piece of software onto a computer and first uses a help menu, she becomes inculcated into a cookbook approach to software. Furthermore, students’ previous experiences with computers are a particularly crucial issue for a public university where students enter with a wide variety of education exposure to computers.ii

In professional practice, the great power of the computer often stems from its flexibility in facilitating a multitude of solution techniques. However, in teaching engineering students to use the computer, that flexibility is often hard to communicate—students are inclined to think of the computer as a needlessly more complicated version of their calculator. Therefore, we need to find better ways to articulate pedagogy with professional engineering practices using computers.

Hipp, C., & Addison, V. (2007, June), The Effects Of Prior Computer Experiences In Considering Engineering Students' Ability To Solve Open Ended Problems Paper presented at 2007 Annual Conference & Exposition, Honolulu, Hawaii. 10.18260/1-2--2140

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