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Topic Maps Used to Present Interrelationships in Dynamic Linear Systems

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2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Vancouver, BC

Publication Date

June 26, 2011

Start Date

June 26, 2011

End Date

June 29, 2011



Conference Session

Computers in Education General Technical Session I

Tagged Division

Computers in Education

Page Count


Page Numbers

22.1535.1 - 22.1535.10



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Paper Authors


Erik Cheever Swarthmore College

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Erik Cheever is a Professor of Engineering at Swarthmore College. He teaches in the areas of Circuits, Electronics, Linear Systems, Control Theory, and DSP.

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Ames Bielenberg Swarthmore College

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Ames Bielenberg is an engineering student at Swarthmore College.

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Topic Maps Used to Present Interrelationships in Dynamic Linear SystemsThe study of Linear Physical Systems is unusual among topics in Engineering in that there is arich interplay among the topics and there is no natural order in which to present the material. Weuse topic maps to emphasize these interrelationships without imposing an arbitrary hierarchy onthe material presented. For example, in terms of types of systems, mechanical systems can betaught first, or electrical. In terms of transforms, Laplace can be taught first, or Fourier, or eventhe Z-transform. There are also many relationships between topics. Examples include thetransforms mentioned previously, the different types of physical system (electrical, mechanical,thermal…), and different solution methods such as state-space and transfer functions. By theirvery nature textbooks must present, and follow, a linear path through the material, and any twotextbooks may follow very different paths. Web-based presentation of the material removes partof this problem because the material need not be presented linearly, but raises the prospect of achaotic portrayal of the subjects because HTML links are merely from text to text and have noinherent meaning.Another way to present such interrelated ideas is through the use of topic maps. Topic maps areused to represent these interrelationships using topics (concepts), associations (the relationshipsbetween topics) and occurrences (information, e.g., web pages, relating to the topics). This isdistinct from concept maps and other commonly used visual methods for organizing informationin that the ideas need not be hierarchical; for example Fourier Transforms are not a subset ofLaplace Transforms (or vice-versa) as is presented in most textbooks. In addition the topics havecertain roles in the association that give the link meaning, a clear advantage over traditionalHTML hyperlinks and other methods.We have developed a system using HTML and JavaScript and XML that allows for the authoringand graphical visualization of topic maps. When visualizing a map, a topic is selected (byclicking on it), and all related topics are displayed around it. Included in the display are theassociations and roles played by each topic in that association. Topics can also have otherinformation (occurrences in the form of HTML links, simulations…) that give explanatory detailabout the topic, including descriptions of how it is related to other, associated, topics. Whilemany textbooks (and even web-based presentations) have only short sections describing theinterrelationships between topics, this system puts the relationship at the core of the presentationof the material so students can more easily grasp why they are learning particular topics, andhow it fits into the larger context of linear systems.

Cheever, E., & Bielenberg, A. (2011, June), Topic Maps Used to Present Interrelationships in Dynamic Linear Systems Paper presented at 2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Vancouver, BC. 10.18260/1-2--18413

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