This full paper will describe the use of multiple computing environments (Excel, Python and MATLAB) integrated in a first-year computing course. Computing is an important outcome of many First-Year Engineering (FYE) programs because it prepares students for the analytical and problem solving skills required for most engineering program. Computing is growing in importance across all the engineering fields.
Close to half a century ago, scientists, engineers, and mathematicians learned programming in a specific language used broadly within their field. Additionally, programming has often been taught using syntax and through a single language. This can lead to students being embroiled in the specifics of the programming language and not understanding the true potential of programming as a scientific and logical problem-solving tool. Given the fast pace of development in technology, and new computing language and environments being introduced at an increasing pace, faculty teaching FYE programming courses face challenge in choosing a language or environment.
The approach used across a set of courses described in this paper is from a large midwestern public university in the United States. Students participate in a foundational year that is common across all majors but has options within the first-year. This paper will describe in detail two of the four options that are open to all engineering majors and share a common approach to introducing computing. The approach is to introduce students to computing concepts by applying these concepts in Excel, Python and MATLAB within a single semester. This paper will provide two years of assessment data showing students’ performance and perception of the courses. The discussions present the affordances of this approach and methods for accommodating the large variance in students computing backgrounds. In addition, the discussion describes the confounds of the pandemic with virtual teaching and potential methods to address these confounds. This paper will interest instructors, and researchers, who teach computing to undergraduate engineering students and the methods used to achieve multiple computing related learning objectives in a short period of time.
Keywords: first-year engineering, computing course, multiple programming languages
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