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A Method Of Assessing Experimental Design In Mechanical Engineering Laboratories

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2009 Annual Conference & Exposition


Austin, Texas

Publication Date

June 14, 2009

Start Date

June 14, 2009

End Date

June 17, 2009



Conference Session

Student Learning and Assessment

Tagged Division

Mechanical Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

14.52.1 - 14.52.13



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Paper Authors


Andre Butler Mercer University

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Andre Butler is an associate professor of environmental and mechanical engineering at Mercer University. He earned the B.S.M.E. from the University of Illinois in mechanical engineering, the M.E. from Carnegie Mellon University in mechanical engineering and environmental management, and the Ph.D. from the Georgia Institute of Technology in environmental engineering. His research interests include pollutant measurement of the ambient atmosphere (ozone and particulate matter), air quality health effects, and design and development of particulate matter measurement instruments.

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William Moses Mercer University

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William Moses is an associate professor and former chair of the Mechanical Engineering Department at Mercer University. He earned the B.M.E. and M.S.M.E. in mechanical engineering from the Georgia Institute of Technology, and the Ph.D. from North Carolina State University. Prior to coming to Mercer, he held a faculty position in mechanical engineering at Texas A&M University. Research interests include experimental work in thermal contact conductance and thermal property measurement.

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

A Method of Assessment to Examine Experimental Design in Mechanical Engineering Laboratories

Students in the mechanical specialization at Mercer University are currently required to take two general mechanical engineering laboratory courses—one in the third year of the curriculum and the other in the fourth year. The first of these courses begins with seven or eight single period laboratories in which the students are directed to complete a well-defined set of procedures and perform simple analyses. In an effort to more formally introduce experimental design into the laboratory experience, this course ends with a three project sequence in which students are provided with an experimental objective (e.g., determine the coefficient of performance of a vapor-compression refrigeration system as a function of condenser pressure) and information regarding the function of an experimental apparatus. In two 3-hour lab periods, students are expected to independently develop and verify a procedure for accomplishing the objective, execute their procedure, and report the results. The purpose of the second course, the senior- level capstone laboratory experience, has always been to have students successfully design an experimental solution to more complex engineering problems, building upon the knowledge gained during the junior-level experience. The senior lab consists of only two experimental objectives, and students have seven weeks to define, execute, and conduct the series of experiments required to meet the objective. This laboratory structure has now been in place for about ten years and has been formally assessed for one and a half ABET cycles, including two ABET site visits. This paper has three main goals: (1) to present an overview of the current structure of these labs at Mercer University, (2) to examine details and results of the School of Engineering’s assessment scheme for demonstrating “an ability to design and conduct experiments, as well as to analyze and interpret data” when applied at the specialization level, and (3) to both quantitatively and qualitatively compare performance in the two lab courses to determine whether the junior-level experience is sufficient preparation for the senior-level experience.


Laboratory experiences are an important component of mechanical engineering (ME) education. In lab courses, students learn to identify experimental objectives, apply basic measurement techniques, collect and evaluate data, and write technical reports. In addition, senior-level students often must design a set of experiments for achieving an open-ended research objective. The Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET) requires that engineering programs demonstrate that their students attain eleven outcomes, including one that most specifically addresses laboratory courses1:

“Engineering programs must demonstrate that their students attain the following outcomes: . . . [including] an ability to design and conduct experiments, as well as to analyze and interpret data . . .”

At the Mercer University School of Engineering (MUSE), the mechanical engineering laboratory sequence consists of two courses. MAE 302L is a two-credit course that most students schedule

Butler, A., & Moses, W. (2009, June), A Method Of Assessing Experimental Design In Mechanical Engineering Laboratories Paper presented at 2009 Annual Conference & Exposition, Austin, Texas. 10.18260/1-2--5744

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