Mathematica in Electrical Engineering: Developing a Modern Learning
University of Southern Maine
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A recent award from the National Science Foundation was used to establish a
computer-integrated classroom to support instruction in selected undergraduate electrical
engineering courses. The new classroom is being used to address three pedagogically
fundamental problems: 1) insufficient mastery of engineering mathematics by many students,
2) student passivity within the traditional lecture format, and 3) insufficient use of
computation and visualization in the learning process.
New electronic courseware is being developed, in the form of Mathematica notebooks,
to facilitate and foster an active learning environment. Through increased use of
computation and scientific visualization, we expect to see improvements in
students' level of interest, increased classroom participation, and finally,
improved learning outcomes.
To date, Mathematica has been integrated into four upper-level electrical
engineering courses in the signal processing area, including junior-level Signals and
Systems, and two senior-level courses: Digital Signal Processing and Digital Image
Processing. A large number of supporting notebooks that accompany and
extend the traditional textbooks have been developed. A few simple principles govern the organization of each
notebook. A notebook typically deals with a single important course topic. It includes
moderate levels of introductory and explanatory text to allow some degree of independent
study. The notebooks have examples of typical calculations that demonstrate solutions to
standard problems. Additionally, each notebook includes "discussion problems"
that students answer during the lecture session. This activity promotes self-discovery and
allows the student to actively participate during the lecture. Finally, a set of basic and
extended computer-based homework problems/projects is attached to each notebook. The role
of the latter is to extend the students' knowledge and interests beyond the necessarily
limited confines of the lecture material.
Examples of selected courseware modules will be presented, and the organization of a
typical lecture will be discussed.