Using Mathematical Packages in Advanced Science and Engineering Units

Andrew Cheetham


Much of the subject material in high level science and engineering units is strongly based on advanced mathematics and requires a high level of mathematical skill on behalf of the students. This is particularly true of subjects like Signal Analysis, Electromagnetics and Control Systems. These skills are usually acquired during the mathematical strand of the course.

Previously, assignment problems presented in these subjects had to be solvable by hand, that is with algebraic manipulation and a calculator. This has two distinct consequences:
• For realistic problems, more time is spent on advanced but routine mathematical manipulations than on the conceptual principles of the subject material; and
• Problems that are solvable by hand (the problem must be carefully posed such that the solution will drop out in analytic form to second order, i.e. quadratic) are necessarily highly theoretical, simplified and unrealistic.

For these reasons it was thought that the routine use of an advanced mathematical package would transform these subjects from a mathematical slog to a higher conceptual level with the student putting the intellectual effort into mathematical formulation and analysis of problems with the package performing the mathematical grind. The use of such a package would address both of the above problems in that more time would be spent on addressing the conceptual material and would allow more realistic and complicated problems to be posed and addressed.

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