ENHANCING UNDERSTANDING AND MOTIVATION OF STUDENTS THROUGH DATA ANALYSIS AND MODELLING APPLICATIONS IN AGRICULTURAL ENGINEERING

P. Martí, J. Cifre, M.C. Erice

Universitat de les Illes Balears (SPAIN)
Most of the problems encountered in engineering and other technical disciplines have a mathematical nature. So, a sound mathematical basis is required in many subjects corresponding to the syllabus of any engineering degree, and a general training in mathematics is scheduled in the first years at Spanish universities. In particular, modelling and data analysis are crucial disciplines for all kind of engineers. Despite their relevance and impact in many branches of the professional practice, this fact is often not reflected in the curricular contents of many engineering degrees, and can be even more dramatic in the studies of Agricultural Engineering at Spanish universities.

These disciplines might be useful teaching resources for ensuring a deeper understanding and visualization of the studied problems in the subjects with scientific-technologic character, as well as direct useful tools for professional practice. Moreover, there is an increasing available number of numerical computing tools with a great potential for solving a wide spectrum of problems, based on the high versatility derived from their mathematical nature.

Usually, the theoretical and practical training received for solving mathematical/statistical problems is widened in further non-mathematical subjects for solving specific engineering problems. Nevertheless, this is not the case in Agricultural Engineering at Spanish universities, where this lack of specific numerical training might cause gaps in a proper coverage of relevant professional competencies. Therefore, the introduction and improvement of new educational initiatives aiming at covering this lack should be a must among the educational community in this field.

This paper describes an educational proposal for addressing this problem. In particular, the presented activities are carried out in the subjects ‘Fundamentals of agricultural experimentation’ and ‘Management of agricultural research projects’ corresponding, respectively, to the Degree in Agricultural Engineering and to the Master in Agricultural Engineering at the University of the Balearic Islands during the academic years 2016-2017. The proposed activities aim, among others, to promote the application of data analysis and modelling to consolidate mathematical-statistical concepts in non-mathematical-statistical contexts, to consolidate understanding of physical phenomena, to promote the use of mathematical software for solving specific problems that the students might encounter in their professional future, and to enhance motivation and understanding at the same time replacing a part of theoretical sessions by practical ones, where the students should confront real and specific engineering problems self-sufficiently with the help of mathematical software.