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Integration of Computational Thinking into Undergraduate Engineering Education: A Case Study on Design of a Hydraulic Coursework

conference contribution
posted on 25.03.2022, 08:58 by Hao Chen, Qi Cao, Christian Della, Idris Lim
Computing techniques have been an essential component of engineering education. Rapid development of computing techniques has provided a powerful means of modelling real-world physical systems through computer simulations, data processing, data analytics, and data visualisations. This indicates that students must be prepared to use these methods and applications as a part of their fundamental education. It is the responsibility of colleges and universities to investigate how to equip engineering students with competency in computational thinking (CT) (Wing, 2006) and incorporate contemporary computing fundamental knowledge into their academic curriculum (Gerber et al., 2015). It is argued that computational thinking skills are best trained in the domain-specific and personal relevant contexts (Magana & Silva Coutinho, 2017). By explicitly integrating computing concepts into classroom teaching and problem solving of the respective disciplines, the engineering graduates will enter the workforce with improved and practice-ready computational thinking, which will enhance their problem-solving skills. Majority of studies on the discipline-based computing have been focused on the use of computer simulations to improve the concept learning. In most of the cases, the simulation software is used as "black box" in classroom teaching, which is merely used to generate outputs based on the inputs provided by the students (Brophy et al, 2015). However, students may need to have more access to the software they are using, in order to understand the detailed underlying mechanism. It can be effectively achieved by building simulation models instead of just using them. Furthermore, through building a simulation model, computational thinking components, e.g., algorithmic design and pattern recognition are also incorporated via the programming process. In this way, students are well-motivated to learn programming through a coursework. In this paper, we will present a case study on design of a hydraulic coursework, which effectively combines the assessment of programming skills, modelling and simulations and disciplinary knowledge for a real-world hydraulic problem. The specific objectives of this study are to investigate if it can help enhance the students' computational thinking skills, acquisitions of fundamental computing concepts, as well as procedures, and the major challenges student encounter. This piece of coursework requires students to use Python programming language to develop a simple numerical solver. In the freshman year, in a programming subject, i.e. CVE1113 - Civil Engineering Skills, Python Programming has been taught. In Year 2, the Civil Engineering core module, CVE2141 - Hydraulics and Hydrology is given on the fundamentals of open channel flow and surface hydrology. The coursework is designed to solve the gradually-varied open channel flow by direct step method, with the objectives from multiple perspectives as follows. 1) Disciplinary objective: apply direct step method to gradually-varied open channel flow. 2) Objective on programming: apply object-oriented programming style to solve fundamental engineering problems. 3) Objective on modelling and simulations: explain the verification and validation process for a numerical solver, and understand its limitation. This newly designed coursework is being implemented in AY2021/22 to SIT-UoG Joint Degree on Civil Engineering. Both qualitative and quantitative methods will be used to examine its effectiveness, which include student evaluation and survey, observation and sampling of student questions during consultation. The sampling of student questions can indicate major challenges student encounter when working on the coursework. Through this case study, we hope to provide some insights into design of such coursework as alternative assessment in engineering modules, and students’ attitude towards it.


Journal/Conference/Book title

Applied Learning Conference 2022, 20-21 January 2022, Online

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