Computer programming assignments in technical courses often involve the instructor choosing a given problem from the text and requiring the students to write a program to solve that problem. While this approach provides the student with an opportunity to improve some skills, there may be more effective approaches.
This paper discusses an approach that initially gives the student only a narrative describing a company’s set of circumstances. The class then discusses how the situation might be improved using computer applications. Through discussion, a set of parameters for the application is developed. By the end of the discussion, the application that will help the company has been defined by the students. The required features and the desirable features are identified. The outcome of the discussion becomes the computer assignment.
When used in a fluid mechanics course by the author, the approach yielded many benefits. The students a) had personal ownership in the assignment, b) were able to see the true power of the computer in automating a repetitive process, c) developed logic and critical thinking abilities, and d) solved a problem similar to ones they will face upon graduation.