A better way to promote active learning in a MATLAB course

One of the more challenging courses to teach in an engineering discipline is computer programming. Focusing only on algorithms and programming blocks leaves little time to build a connection to daily engineering problems. On the other hand, teaching based on problem solving does not allow for a deeper comprehension of algorithm development. “Finding the right balance between these approaches was the issue that we had faced in the Cal Poly Pomona Aerospace Engineering Department for teaching MATLAB,” Dr. Nakhjiri explains. “I decided to try a different approach.”

A traditional textbook cannot adequately engage the students in the process of learning. “No textbook could provide the level of student interaction I was hoping for, until I found the MATLAB zyBook,” he notes. The zyBook platform not only encourages the student to become an active learner; it also challenges the traditional learning environment with a focus on hands-on experience. “Cal Poly Pomona Aerospace Engineering is famous for its learn-by-doing approach. Why not use an innovative platform such as zyBooks to implement the same approach to teaching MATLAB programming?” he suggests.

Dr. Nakhjiri used zyBooks’ platform for a relatively large group of students in a flipped classroom style. Students completed readings and embedded activities in the MATLAB zyBook each week, and lecture time was dedicated to applying that knowledge to simple engineering problems. “A flipped classroom provided the opportunity to discuss engineering problems with my students knowing that they have already learned the material needed for that week,” reports Dr. Nakhjiri. The interactive segments in the zyBook promoted active learning, and the instructor dashboard allowed Dr. Nakhjiri to easily track student progress and identify common challenges to discuss in class. Using these tools, he could determine which students struggled with a certain topic and provide them with appropriate resources. This approach would be much more difficult with a traditional textbook.

Student feedback at the end of the quarter was positive. They liked the zyBook and found it very effective compared to traditional textbooks. Many students showed more interest in studying other programming languages. For Dr. Nakhjiri, affordability, excellent customer service, and meaningful student engagement are his reasons to continue using his zyBook. He concludes: “The interactive zyBook platform is a step forward toward personalized education. It is now upon us, instructors and students, to help improve these platforms by sharing our experience and needs with innovators. I look forward to using the MATLAB zyBook next year in my class.”


 

Dr. Navid Nakhjiri is an assistant professor of Aerospace Engineering at Cal Poly Pomona. He is passionate about exploring new ideas and teaching methods that could result in a more productive classroom experience for his students. Dr. Nakhjiri believes that the future of education will include more personalized teaching approaches that meet each student’s unique strengths and abilities.