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Introduction

The Computation Lab is a sequence of three one-credit lab courses taught by the Department of Computer Science to all first-year undergraduates in the College of Engineering at Drexel University. Each course in the Computation Lab sequence is offered twice every academic year—first as a traditional course, and then during the summer as an accelerated five week course. The following table lists the terms when the courses are offered, states the co-requisite for each course, and provides links to the course websites for the current academic year.

Course Number Course Name Term Offered Term Offered
Accelerated
Co-requisite
CS121 Computation Lab I Fall 2009 TBA Korman 110
CS122 Computation Lab II Winter 2010 TBA Korman 110
CS123 Computation Lab III Spring 2010 TBA Korman 110

Over a period of one academic year, the three Computation Lab courses CS 121/122/123 provide an opportunity for Drexel engineering students to acquire a solid working knowledge of the Maple computer algebra system. Along the way, students are introduced to some useful ideas from computer science, such as elementary programming constructs and simple data structures. The Computation Lab shows students how to apply these basic ideas to find computational solutions to a variety of mathematical problems involving algebra, geometry, and calculus. Students learn how to use Maple to perform many different kinds of computations--to manipulate algebraic formulas with symbolic variables, to compute numerical results using exact arithmetic and floating-point approximations, and to visualize the results using two- and three-dimensional plots and animations.

The goal of the Computation Lab is to impart the fundamental knowledge and practical skills needed to use Maple effectively as a computational tool, both in upper-level engineering courses and in the workplace after graduation. The College of Engineering's strong commitment to Maple is supported in part by a university-wide software license which permits all Drexel students, faculty, and staff to download Maple and install it on their own computers free of charge (see the Maple software links in the sidebar).

History of the Computation Lab

The Computation Lab began in 2005–2006 as a pilot project of Dr. Jeremy Johnson, the Computer Science Department Head, who taught the courses to 66 first-year computer science majors. At the end of the academic year, Dr. Johnson presented a paper on the results of this pilot project at Maple Conference 2006, which was held at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ontario, Canada on July 23–26, 2006. Dr. Johnson's paper, entitled "Development of a Calculus Based Computation Lab - An Algorithmic Approach to Calculus," can be found on pages 129–151 of the Maple Conference 2006 Proceedings, which were published by Maplesoft.

Building on the success of Dr. Johnson's pilot project, the Computation Lab courses were offered in 2006–2007 to a much larger and more diverse group consisting of 669 first-year undergraduates with majors in all fields of engineering. This tenfold expansion took place under the direction of Dr. Frederick W. Chapman, a Visiting Professor of Computer Science hired in September 2006 as the new Computation Lab Course Coordinator. Dr. Chapman completed his PhD in Applied Mathematics in 2003 at the University of Waterloo—the place where Maple was invented. Dr. Chapman's PhD thesis research was supervised by Dr. Keith O. Geddes, who co-founded the Maple project at the University of Waterloo in 1980. Dr. Chapman was a member of the Symbolic Computation Group at the University of Waterloo from 1995–2006 and a member of the Ontario Research Centre for Computer Algebra at the University of Western Ontario from 1999–2006. Dr. Chapman has contributed research papers and presented research talks and research posters on computer algebra at a number of international conferences, including the International Symposium on Symbolic and Algebraic Computation (ISSAC), the East Coast Computer Algebra Day (ECCAD), the Maple Summer Workshop (MSW), and Calculemus.

Under the direction of Professors Johnson and Chapman, the Computation Lab has adopted cutting-edge teaching technologies—including not only the Maple computer algebra system, but also the Maple TA online testing and assessment system, the Blackboard Vista course management system, and various administrative and technology infrastructure websites already integrated into the fabric of academic life at Drexel. The Computation Lab continues to evolve and improve each year, partly due to the experience we gain through teaching it, and partly due to the helpful constructive feedback we receive from our students.