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Using Symbolic Expressions As Part Of Computer Based Instruction

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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

6.1116.1 - 6.1116.7

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Eric Bell

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

Session XX93

Using Symbolic Expressions as Part of Computer Based Instruction Eric Bell Triton College

Computer use inside and outside the classroom is increasing. Most applications are tools that allow the student to perform more complex operations on more sophisticated problems. An example is the use of symbolic calculators that allow student to enter more complex and abstract expressions.

However, students must still have a grasp of what they are looking at in a homework or example problem. At the community college level, students have a wide variety of skill levels, but on the average have not yet made the connection between math and engineering mechanics. It is by example and homework problems that we instill the connection.

Most presentations for making this connection are either printed matter, or computer-based learning. Computer-based learning holds the most promise at this time because we have to admit that printed material is limited in its level of interactivity. It is difficult to respond to a particular student problem without mudding the waters for everyone.

A solution, which addresses these limitations, is a program that queries students for problem components. This relieves the system of having to be a complete intelligent tutoring system by addressing specific parts of the example problem. And yet, the program addresses the need of students to receive additional assistance in problem review by creating a pro-active environment. This engages the student by eliciting and evaluating symbolic responses to questions and problem components. Errors are evaluated by type allowing the student to assess their error and take corrective action. This paper describes how the program has been implemented and integrated into the Engineering Statics course along with student evaluation of the process.


The proliferation of the personal / desk-top computer has caused many in education to examine ways to use the machines to enhance education. Unfortunately there are at least two drawbacks associated with computer use as an education enhancement tool.

One is the use of computers as a remediation tool. If the student is already having difficulties, then remedial work tends to make them even more remedial because they don’t have time to put into new material. Ample evidence exists to demonstrate that students who are deficient in math related skills are at a significant disadvantage compared other students. Thus, a student entering the College without at pre-calculus background may never catch up.

Efforts to use computer-aided instruction as a study aide have been laudable. Certainly the best intentioned minds have tackled the problem, but evidence indicates only marginal progress. The primary problem seems to be that students who are having difficulties with a topic easily become

Bell, E. (2001, June), Using Symbolic Expressions As Part Of Computer Based Instruction Paper presented at 2001 Annual Conference, Albuquerque, New Mexico.

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