To Be Presented in the 11th Asian Technology Conference in Mathematics
December 12-16, 2006, Hong Kong SAR, China

Enhancement of Engineering Education via E-Mathematics

Thomas W.C. Hu
Dept of Civil Engineering
The Hong Kong University of Science & Technology
Hong Kong


Alternative methods for doing engineering mathematics are presented by utilizing two types of e-mathematics tools, namely spreadsheets and calculators endowed with computer algebra systems (CAS). Practical application of these tools is presented with actual classroom examples from various engineering courses taught by the author. Pedagogical models justifying and guiding the use of such "scaffolding" in teaching and learning are also presented.

The application of spreadsheet methods is first discussed, illustrating the potential use and benefits of spreadsheets in optimization and matrix problems arising frequently in engineering. For example, in structural analysis, the use of spreadsheets allows deformations to be solved rapidly and efficiently, allowing teachers and students to concentrate on the mechanics rather than heavy matrix manipulations. The power of combining spreadsheet methods and VBA is also illustrated. In survey adjustment problems involving multi-variable non-linear optimization, the spreadsheet method is again shown to be more efficient and convenient than the traditional programming approach presented in traditional textbooks.

The second type of e-math tool to be considered is CAS calculators (TI- 89T and Voyage 200). Such tools have been widely used in Austria and some other countries, leading to paradigm shifts especially in the natural sciences and engineering disciplines. However, the classroom use of such calculators is not yet popular at the tertiary level in Hong Kong. Some recent applications and proposed education projects on the use of CAS calculators in engineering education are presented. Suggestions on CAS-based didactics are also given, which may help to remove concerns about !too much automation! by some conservative educators.


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