Asee peer logo

A Progressively Open Ended Laboratory To Promote Active Learning

Download Paper |


2006 Annual Conference & Exposition


Chicago, Illinois

Publication Date

June 18, 2006

Start Date

June 18, 2006

End Date

June 21, 2006



Conference Session

On Pedagogy of Lab Courses and Their Design

Tagged Division

Division Experimentation & Lab-Oriented Studies

Page Count


Page Numbers

11.100.1 - 11.100.11



Permanent URL

Download Count


Request a correction

Paper Authors


David Pape Central Michigan University

visit author page

David A. Pape is a professor of Mechanical Engineering and serves as Engineering Programs Coordinator in the Engineering and Technology Department at Central Michigan University. Prior to joining CMU, from 1998-2004 he was professor and chair of the Mechanical Engineering Department at Saginaw Valley State University. From 1989 to 1998 he was a faculty member at Alfred University, where he served as Department Chair from 1995-1998. Dr. Pape earned a B.S. degree with distinction from Clarkson University in 1980, an M.S. from the University of Akron, and a Ph.D. from the State University of New York at Buffalo in 1988. He has been elected into the Chi Epsilon, Tau Beta Pi, and Phi Kappa Phi honor societies.

visit author page

Download Paper |

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


The mechanical engineering laboratory sequence at Central Michigan University consists of two courses in the junior year and one in the first semester of the senior year. One of the goals of this sequence is to prepare students for testing senior design prototypes in the second semester of their final year. The first course in the sequence, solid mechanics laboratory, is described in this paper. This course is structured so that students progress from “cookbook” experiences to somewhat more open ended labs and finally to a significant experimental design process. In the first series of six straightforward “cookbook” labs, students have one week in which to perform pre-lab work, do the experiment, and write a short technical report documenting their results. Next, there are two somewhat more open ended “two week labs” where students extend the knowledge and skills obtained earlier in the course to answering slightly more difficult experimental questions, with slightly increased reporting requirements. Finally, the last quarter of the semester is devoted to a four week experimental design laboratory, requiring students to formulate a question, select equipment, construct or modify an apparatus, carry out the experiment, write a formal report and give an oral presentation.

This paper provides a detailed description of the course, including examples of experiments, and discusses how it promotes active learning, introduces lifelong learning concepts, fosters teamwork, increases communication skills, and prepares students for further laboratory courses or experimental activities. It is found that by providing increasingly open ended experiences, students become actively engaged in the laboratory experience, and exhibit a high level of satisfaction with the course.


The EC 2000 accreditation criteria require that an institution have in place a comprehensive outcomes assessment program to ensure the quality and continuous improvement of the educational process1. Program outcomes are in essence statements of the skills, knowledge, and behaviors that are attained by the time students graduate from a program. Although all of the eleven “a-k” program outcomes specified in the criteria are important in laboratory courses, at least three have particular bearing: b. an ability to design and conduct experiments, as well as to analyze and interpret data. d. an ability to function in multidisciplinary teams. g. an ability to communicate effectively.

In the newly developed mechanical engineering program at Central Michigan University, these program outcomes are integrated throughout the required laboratory courses.

Laboratory Sequence

After their initial exposure in the freshman and sophomore years to experimental techniques in introductory chemistry and physics courses, students are prepared for engineering laboratory experiences. The mechanical engineering laboratory sequence at

Proceedings of the American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition Copyright  2006, American Society for Engineering Education

Pape, D. (2006, June), A Progressively Open Ended Laboratory To Promote Active Learning Paper presented at 2006 Annual Conference & Exposition, Chicago, Illinois. 10.18260/1-2--787

ASEE holds the copyright on this document. It may be read by the public free of charge. Authors may archive their work on personal websites or in institutional repositories with the following citation: © 2006 American Society for Engineering Education. Other scholars may excerpt or quote from these materials with the same citation. When excerpting or quoting from Conference Proceedings, authors should, in addition to noting the ASEE copyright, list all the original authors and their institutions and name the host city of the conference. - Last updated April 1, 2015