Making Undergraduate Labs Challenging and Useful
Learning through laboratory work is critical in high quality science education. Traditional engineering labs are useful but not challenging. However, when the same labs are repeated every year, and students know the results, it is questionable how much is really learned. Students may copy the results from last year’s labs, making it difficult for instructors to evaluate their work. To address this problem, the Mechanical Engineering Experimentation and Laboratory II class was revised. A new lab designed to be challenging and useful by using a current research topic to guide it. The class taught in new class environment with state-of-the-art facilities. Students learn instrumentation in a way that forces them to think about the problem, develop a method to measure a phenomenon, and draw conclusions about the results. The tangible connection to research motivates students. It takes professors more time to create these labs. However, since the results fold directly into their research objectives, i.e., gathering data needed for publications, the approach ultimately becomes an efficient use of time. It is fairly common for professors to ignore undergraduate labs, but this paper shows that with a little bit of effort, these labs can provide a significant learning experience for students. Based on the survey, more than 90% of students agree that the new lab help them to develop defining problem, designing experiment, analyzing, concluding, and reporting skills. More than 70% of students agree that they learn new measurement equipment for the new lab. Also, 91% of students would recommend other students to take the new lab. Moreover, this paper shows that the results from the lab lead to the manuscript which has submitted to a journal.
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