Conceptual and procedural approaches to mathematics in the engineering curriculum: Student conceptions and performance
Journal of Engineering Education
University of Pretoria, 0002 Pretoria, South Africa; Linköping University, 58183 Linköping, Sweden
BACKGROUND Demands by engineering faculties of mathematics departments have traditionally been for teaching computational skills while also expecting analytic and creative knowledge-based skills. We report on a project between two institutions, one in South Africa and one in Sweden, that investigated whether the emphasis in undergraduate mathematics courses for engineering students would benefit from being more conceptually oriented than the traditional more procedurally oriented way of teaching. PURPOSE (HYPOTHESIS) We focus on how second-year engineering students respond to the conceptual-procedural distinction, comparing performance and confidence between Swedish and South African groups of students in answering conceptual and procedural mathematics problems. We also compare these students' conceptions on the role of conceptual and procedural mathematics problems within and outside their mathematics studies. DESIGN/METHOD An instrument consisting of procedural and conceptual items as well as items on student opinions on the roles of the different types of knowledge in their studies was conducted with groups of second-year engineering students at two universities, one in each country. RESULTS Although differences between the two countries are small, Swedish students see procedural items to be more common in their mathematics studies while the South African students find both conceptual and procedural items common; the latter group see the conceptually oriented items as more common in their studies outside the mathematics courses. CONCLUSIONS Students view mathematics as procedural. Conceptual mathematics is seen as relevant outside mathematics. The use of mathematics in other subjects within engineering education can be experienced differently by students from different institutions, indicating that the same type of education can handle the application of mathematics in different ways in different institutions. © 2012 ASEE.
Computational skills; Conceptual and procedural thinking; Confidence; Engineering curriculum; Engineering faculty; Mathematics course; South Africa; Undergraduate mathematics course; Engineering education; Knowledge based systems; Mathematical techniques; Societies and institutions; Students