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Vertical Integration Of Matlab Across Engineering Curricula: Systemic Curricular Change By Small Steps

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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

Instrumentation and Laboratory Systems

Tagged Division

Computers in Education

Page Count


Page Numbers

12.1587.1 - 12.1587.14



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Paper Authors

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Jon Sticklen Michigan State University

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Daina Briedis Michigan State University

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Mark Urban-Lurain Michigan State University

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Timothy Hinds Michigan State University

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



In the engineering workplace, newly minted graduates from our engineering programs are expected to be facile in formulating well-defined problems, and in selecting an appropriate tool with which to develop a solution once a problem is well posed. Typically in the engineering academic community, we have considered the analytical tools of traditional mathematics as the primary solution tools our students must systematically master. The language of mathematics is indeed indispensable to us for representing a well-posed engineering problem. But solution tools bundled into the modern computational environments provide a second and complementary solution capability, and one that is core for problems with no closed-form solution.

Undergraduates in the engineering disciplines are certainly exposed to solution tools that are computer based. In general however, the systematic use of modern computer environments does not currently receive the formal attention in our curricula that traditional mathematics receives. Yet we expect our students to solve problems as assigned using such environments. This puts engineering students in a bind. Without systematic and repeated use of a given computer environment over the entire undergraduate student experience, when faculty tell students to solve a rich problem using a computer tool, the students spend inordinate time (re)learning the computer tool, and not focusing on the concept which the faculty member had in mind. We should not be surprised when a senior-level undergraduate comments “I don’t know any MATLAB® - how can I solve this problem?” when the senior had a freshman course in MATLAB two years prior, yet had not used MATLAB in the sophomore or junior years. Two years of non-use of any tool will lead to forgetting key details for almost anyone.

In the College of Engineering of Michigan State University, the computer environment of choice for problem solving at the undergraduate level is MATLAB. This selection was made a number of years ago by a college-level ad hoc committee. The choice of MATLAB is well reasoned in our belief, both for intrinsic attributes of the environment, but also and increasingly because MATLAB is becoming a de facto standard in many university engineering curricula reflecting the increasing use of MATLAB in industry. In what follows we use MATLAB as our point of reference, but it is important to note here that our arguments apply with equal force should a given university select Mathematica, or MathCad, or … Systematic and sustained use of the computational environment is central, no matter what the specific selection might be.

Currently, the authors of this paper are engaged in an interdisciplinary collaboration to foster and promote course-level integration of MATLAB into most undergraduate engineering majors, with a long-term goal of curriculum-level integration. Our efforts have included faculty quick-start seminars in MATLAB basics, providing assistance to faculty who are developing homework assignments that use MATLAB, beginning the development of a library of web-available “How To” screen movies showing specific steps for performing given operations in MATLAB, and - at

Sticklen, J., & Briedis, D., & Urban-Lurain, M., & Hinds, T. (2007, June), Vertical Integration Of Matlab Across Engineering Curricula: Systemic Curricular Change By Small Steps Paper presented at 2007 Annual Conference & Exposition, Honolulu, Hawaii. 10.18260/1-2--2558

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