HEA Discipline Workshop and Seminar Series 2011-12

The use of MATLAB within Engineering degrees

Hosted by the Department of Automatic Control & Systems Engineering, at the University of Sheffield, 4 April 2012


Do you want to be more effective or more efficient?
MATLAB is heavily used in most engineering departments however assessment can be time consuming and difficult using traditional methods. Moreover, students can struggle to get to grips with or engage with the software and therefore need more support than is usually available. This seminar will share best practice from UK academics in supporting student learning without requiring excessive times to run practice laboratory classes and for marking or giving feedback. About 50% of  the time will be given over to hands-on practice so that attendees can experiment with what they have heard and ask questions of the presenters. Computers will be provided with MATLAB access.


09.30-10.00 Arrival and refreshments
10.00-11.00 Student engagement and independence (Anthony Rossiter, Sheffield)
11.00-11.30 Refreshments and time to practise
11.30-12.30 Automated generation of student feedback/marks (Alan Irving, Liverpool)
12.30-13.30 Lunch and time to practise
13.30-14.30 MATLAB Assessment for Final Year Units (Stephen Lynch, Manchester and Victor Becerra, Reading)
14:30-15:00 Teaching with MATLAB: Interaction with students (Coorous Mohtadi, Mathworks)
15:00-15:30 Hands on practice, question/answer and refreshments

Draft Programme/Session Speakers

Student engagement and independence (Anthony Rossiter, Sheffield):

It is well reported in the literature that undergraduates can struggle with programming. In the author's experience, these struggles are replicated in student usage of MATLAB, because the basic skill requirement for most problem solving involves some level of programming and thus familiarity with concepts such as files, variable names, functions, inputs and outputs, loops, conditionals, etc. Historical data suggested that even with a lot of support in terms of materials and laboratories, students found MATLAB difficult and, of more concern, did not like it!

This talk will look at the solution the department decided upon to tackle the issue of student disengagement and disillusionment. In the author's view there has been a very marked change in student perceptions and engagement and thus the new method is a success. Moreover, it has the secondary advantage of being much more based on independent learning and thus develops more student skills needed later.

A second contribution of this talk is based on the general topic of supporting student learning for any topic. It is known that humans learn well with visual input, especially where there is movement as opposed to a static picture or equation, and thus there has been an increase in the use of interactive games or animations  to help students practise key concepts. The author will show how MATLAB provides an accessible tool for academic staff to produce virtual laboratories efficiently and with low cost. Students can access these anywhere and anytime to reinforce their understanding of core concepts, or even for formal assessment.

Automated generation of student feedback/marks (Alan Irving, Liverpool):

The discussion will be placed in the context of providing training, support and assessment for 300 second year Engineering students. MATH286 is a year-long module in which the students learn about numerical methods and associated programming in MATLAB. The conflicting demands of providing mass support and individual assessment are discussed. A MATLAB-based  system of automated assessment and feedback, developed at Loughborough and Liverpool, is reviewed along with the associated support strategies.


MATLAB Assessment for Final Year Units (Stephen Lynch, Manchester and Victor Becerra, Reading):

All undergraduate Maths students are given a free copy of the student edition of MATLAB when they start their degree at MMU. Many units are MATLAB-based but the unit entitled "Dynamical Simulation and Chaos" relies on the package more than any other unit. The students are given two lengthy pieces of MATLAB-based coursework (examples to be discussed at the workshop) and the final year examination takes place in a computer laboratory with access to MATLAB. Feedback on the unit is extremely good and alumni students have stated that this unit has helped them more than any on their following career path.

Dr. Victor Becerra will describe his experience at Reading, where Matlab based assessment of advanced control topics has been carried out over 10 years. He will describe his approach to assessing different topics, such as optimal control, non-linear control, robust control and system identification; the procedures used to administer the computer based exams, the advantages of computer based assessments, and the risks and limitations associated
with this type of assessment.

Teaching with MATLAB: Interaction with students (Coorous Mohtadi, Mathworks):

Some of the challenges of teaching and assessing the work of the students relate to different modes of learning, presentation of materials and assignments, and motivating students of different ability. MATLAB has a number of features that allow better interaction with the students. Interactive visualization and coding tools are fundamental to deeper levels of understanding. Some of the features of the MATLAB editor as well as additional tools on social networking sites such as MATLAB Central render themselves to useful approaches for setting assignments and grading them. It will be shown that using the publish facility in MATLAB is a powerful method of setting assignments and results in a great deal of alignment in producing higher quality outputs. New tools such as the interactive code analyser and the reports it generates can help students perform a significant level of self-assessment.

Hands on practise and question/answer:

There will be approximately one hour available for each theme. About 50% of the time will be given over to practise, so attendees can access a PC with MATLAB and thus experiment with the proposed ideas, template code and ask questions.

Attendance, Registration and Contact Details

Attendance Attendance is free (paid by HEA), but you must register in advance.
Registration and queries email: j.a.rossiter@shef.ac.uk
tel:     0114 2225685
Date/Time Date: 4 April 2012.
The event starts at 10.00am and ends at 15.30pm.
Venue Portobello Building, Mappin Street, Sheffield.
(100 yards from West Street Tram Stop)
Travel Directions Maps and Travel advice is available from the University's information for visitors web page.
Note: The Portobello Building is on Mappin Street and is the building numbered 177 on the campus map.
Maps and Travel advice

For more information: www.shef.ac.uk/acse