When am I ever going to use this? An investigation of the calculus content of core engineering courses

Brian Faulkner, Nicole Johnson-Glauch, Dong San Choi, Geoffrey L. Herman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Background: Many engineering students fail to proceed through required prerequisite mathematics courses. Since these courses strongly influence engineering student attrition, we should examine to what degree these courses truly serve as prerequisites for following engineering coursework. Purpose/Hypothesis: We examined two research questions: Which concepts and skills learned in calculus are applied in engineering statics and circuits homework assignments? How are calculus skills applied in engineering statics and circuits homework assignments?. Design/Method: This study analyzes the homework problems of two engineering courses—statics and circuits for nonmajors—using the mathematics-in-use method. These courses were chosen since they often require calculus as a direct prerequisite and are taken by most engineering majors. The mathematical content of each homework problem is carefully analyzed, with attention to alternative solution paths that may not match the instructor solution. Results: Only 8% of statics problems and 20% of circuits for nonmajors problems applied calculus. Furthermore, these problems applied only the simplest calculus skills (e.g., integration of polynomials). Conclusions: Circuits and statics apply relatively little calculus; most problems consist primarily of algebra. We may be able to modify prerequisite structures to ease or speed student progress.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)402-423
Number of pages22
JournalJournal of Engineering Education
Volume109
Issue number3
DOIs
StatePublished - Jul 1 2020

Keywords

  • calculus
  • engineering mathematics
  • mathematics
  • qualitative
  • undergraduate

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education
  • Engineering(all)

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