Teaching computer algorithms and data structures to students in engineering and the physical sciences
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This paper describes preliminary results from MACS 410: Scientific Computing in C, a 1 semester, 3 credit course developed by the Department of Mathematical and Computer Sciences at the Colorado School of Mines. MACS 410, also known as "Greatest Hits of Computer Science", is aimed at seniors and graduate students majoring in engineering and the physical sciences who have had a programming language course (usually FORTRAN) and wish to learn C. Instruction relies on two novel techniques which are expected to be applicable to other colleges: 1) MACS 410 is taught as a laboratory course with in class exercises on UNIX workstations and 2) it uses the XTANGO X-11 based algorithm animation program from Georgia Tech for interactive computer-based instruction. This paper focuses on the use of XTANGO in MACS 410. XTANGO allows the student to visualize operations and structures through both precompiled and interactive displays. Its primary pedagogical advantage is that it allows the course to concentrate on the evaluation of algorithms and data structures, rather than becoming mired in the description of how a particular algorithm operates. From a practical viewpoint, its advantages are that it is available free of charge, comes with a large library of animations, allows the instructor to show what is happening at each step of an algorithm, and is easy for students to animate their own algorithms. Course notes, etc., are available from the author on request. © 1993 IEEE.
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