The computer has become one of the most widely used tools in the modern world, and has had a profound impact on how engineering and science are practised today. Engineering students are required to familiarise themselves with both the hardware and software environments in a modern computing system, and how to apply the fundamentals of computing to solve various engineering problems. At Griffith University, a computing course was offered to more than 350 first-year engineering students from Civil, Mechanical, Electrical, Mechatronics and Biomedical Engineering since 2009. For the last 5 years, most students often find computing and programming difficult because they have limited mathematical and physics backgrounds to understand the situations presented to them. The most challenging task for students was to formulate engineering problems and then find an algorithm to solve them. On the other hand, the most challenging task for lecturer was to motivate the students to learn and to provide them with an effective learning environment.
PURPOSE OR GOAL
The goal of this work was to develop an effective teaching methodology to motivate and assist first-year students, from various engineering disciplines, to actively and successfully learn computing and programing. Systematic course evaluations were completed to know what works, what doesn’t work and the most importantly how to improve the course. Eventually, the course aims to help the students to apply the computing techniques to solve practical engineering problems and get themselves ready for the advanced courses and future career.
A consistent problem solving approach was and is applied in this continuing course. Numerous engineering examples are embedded in the programming algorithm introduction. Weekly lectures and “hands-on” computer labs were designed for students to learn and practice. A problem solving assignment project was designed to cover all engineering fields. In order to engage students to learn the course more effectively, a flexible teaching assistance plan was also arranged based on students’ engineering background knowledge and computing experience.
A comprehensive evaluation was carried out to assess the effectiveness of the students learning. During the semester, formal and informal “Classroom Control” feedback was collected and responded. To provide the broadest picture of the course possible, an on-line survey was completed for the course, the lecturer and all tutors at the end of the course. The course survey data was analysed systematically for all aspects by using the statistic distribution method. Finally, students’ performance in the course was also used as another indicator to show the effectiveness of the teaching and learning.
ACTUAL OR ANTICIPATED OUTCOMES
While this project is still ongoing, preliminary analysis has shown the teaching methods are effective as the course survey score has been improved into the top band for student satisfaction. Student performance is also improving when compared to previous years. Therefore, the problem solving method and flexible teaching assistance were effective for this course and the approaches employed should be applicable elsewhere.
In the study, effective teaching methods including problem solving and flexible learning assistance are introduced for the teaching of computing and programming course to first-year engineering students. The examples from different engineering disciplines aided the students understanding of programming fundamentals and how to apply them to real world engineering applications. The flexible teaching assistance provides students sufficient support in learning the challenging course.
Computing and programming, problem solving, first-year engineering, flexible teaching assistance