Jifu Tan

Assistant Professor
Department of Mechanical Engineering
College of Engineering & Engineering Technology

Course(s) Targeted by this Innovation

MEE 340: Fluid Mechanics
MEE 380: Computational Methods in Engineering Design

Purpose and Impact

Fluid Mechanics (MEE340) and Computational Methods in Engineering Design (MEE380) are two required but very challenging courses in mechanical engineering due to the mathematics and programming involved. The project is to design and introduce ACCENT (Advanced Computing and Communication Engineering Notebooks for Teaching) to provide additional support for students by making programming more approachable for students and to reduce the cost of course materials through the use of open-source tools (e.g., replacing Matlab, which costs $99 per student). In addition, ACCENT will introduce students to Python, an easy-to-learn programming language that is essential in data science; familiarity with Python will provide students with additional career opportunities.

Computational thinking, which "involves solving problems, designing systems, and understanding human behavior, by drawing the concepts fundamental to computer science", is indispensable in solving complex engineering problems. However, the current engineering curriculum does not provide students with enough exposure to computational thinking and opportunities to practice it. This project tries to improve students' computational skills by integrating ACCENT with homework and projects so that students have ample opportunity to practice and gain computational thinking skills.

Description of Innovation

ACCENT is an interface conducive to interactive and literate computing, where students can interleave engineering notes and design ideas with code, equations, figures, and other media. It will be built on the open-source project Jupyter notebook and Python ecosystem that integrates computing, mathematics, engineering, and scientific communications. ACCENT will include a number of features that help students be more successful:

  • ACCENT renders computations as hand calculations. Students will see their work as if it were written by hand, thus easing students' fear of programming.
  • Built-in dimension awareness ensures an automatic physical unit conversion and dimension homogeneity. Students don't need to worry about how to convert inches to meters and will get instant warnings if they want to add length to time in their calculations.
  • It will generate a neat design report with narrative texts, LaTeX based equations, and detailed engineering calculations.

Contact Us

Center for Innovative
Teaching and Learning

Phone: 815-753-0595
Email: citl@niu.edu

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