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The Use Of Analysis Packages To Reinforce Engineering Concepts

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1996 Annual Conference


Washington, District of Columbia

Publication Date

June 23, 1996

Start Date

June 23, 1996

End Date

June 26, 1996



Page Count


Page Numbers

1.484.1 - 1.484.5

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Paper Authors

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P.E., Dr. Henry L. Welch

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

Session 1426

The Use of Analysis Packages to Reinforce Engineering Concepts

Dr. Henry L. Welch, P.E. Milwaukee School of Engineering


A common problem often noted in students is that even though they can successfully manipulate the equations inherent in an engineering system they still fail to see the full significance of their work. This problem is often mitigated by appropriately designed laboratory experiments, but some concepts are often difficult to demonstrate in the laboratory and, even then, the desired concept or conclusion may not be reached or learned by the student. A number of faculty members at the Milwaukee School of Engineering (MSOE) have had some success reinforcing engineering concepts in a junior level course in computer-aided design for electrical engineers. The primary goal of the course has been to reintroduce students to analysis tools such as spreadsheets, Matlab. and symbolic math engines by using them to analyze and design circuits. To make the course more than a “gadgets” course, lecture examples and laboratory exercises have been developed which target relevant design issues and the demonstration of circuit concepts. Among the many areas addressed in this course are the effects of standard component values, component tolerances, non-zero initial conditions, and brown-out situations to real circuits. Other demonstrations show how the analysis tools can often be inaccurate or altogether wrong in the results they present and how the user of these tools might be able to detect when this is occurring. This paper will present many of the examples and laboratory exercises employed by this course and provide some feedback on their success in reinforcing material from other courses.


The ultimate goal of any engineering curriculum is to prepare work-ready graduates with a sound understanding of how and why circuits or systems work and the ability to develop circuits or systems using this understanding. Given the fragmentation of course work into individual courses, it is challenging for students to integrate the concepts from one course with others before or after it in the curriculum. Many schools, MSOE included, have had considerable success mitigating this problem through the use of just-in- time instruction approaches and capstone design sequences. This, though, is often not enough to guarantee that a curriculum-wide understanding is obtained. Course material is often too distanced in time to properly reinforce or link the topics sufficiently for most students.

The effects of this temporal distance can be reduced by insuring that the basic concepts are well understood or that appropriate efforts are made to review the material before it is needed again. Properly designed laboratory experiments w-e an excellent w~y of reinforcing the abstract and dry material from a lecture. Many students benefit t’rom this hands-on tippro~ch to learning. By building a circuit or system, monitoring its behavior, and then prcpwing J written or oral report most students de~’elop a deeper understanding of the systems they will ultimately help desi:n and unalyze. However, this is often not enough. Many concepts are difficult to demonstrate in a laboratory situ~tion because they are either difficult to setup or monitor properly. .Additionally, m time passes the understanding often Pddes through lack of use or because it never really existed ot all. Regu]dr review of important moterials and concepts is a partial solution, but there is too much material that needs to be covered for the later to be successfully implemented.

, ~hx~~ 1996 ASEE Annual Conference Proceedings ‘.yllly’; .

Welch, P. D. H. L. (1996, June), The Use Of Analysis Packages To Reinforce Engineering Concepts Paper presented at 1996 Annual Conference, Washington, District of Columbia.

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