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A Survey of the Proportion of Classes in Undergraduate Engineering Curricula that Include Labs

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2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access


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Publication Date

June 22, 2020

Start Date

June 22, 2020

End Date

June 26, 2021

Conference Session

Experimentation and Laboratory-oriented Studies Division Technical Session 3

Tagged Division

Experimentation and Laboratory-Oriented Studies

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Eleanor Byrnes Harvey Mudd College

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Ellie Byrnes is a student at Harvey Mudd College, currently pursuing a BS in Mathematics. Ellie has an interest in doing work in STEM education and expects to graduate from in May of 2021.

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Yaqub Alam Mahsud Harvey Mudd College


Spencer Rosen Harvey Mudd College

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Spencer Rosen is a student at Harvey Mudd College pursuing a BS in Engineering with an emphasis on Electrical and Computer Engineering. He expects to graduate in May of 2020.

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Matthew Spencer Harvey Mudd College

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Matthew Spencer is an assistant professor at Harvey Mudd College. His research interests include experiential and hands-on learning, and integrating mechanical, chemical and quantum devices into circuits and communication links.

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This research paper will describe the results of a systematic review of engineering course catalogs and program requirements that sought to answer the question, “How many lab classes does an engineering student take?”. This study is motivated by two observations: first, literature suggests that labs have historically served a critical role in the education of engineering students, but second, ABET does not list any requirements for the number of laboratories that engineers must take, instead offering the requirement a program provides “experimental experience appropriate to the program.” This study provides a quantitative summary of how different programs interpret that charge, and that summary can be used as a benchmark for programs to evaluate their own laboratory offerings.

Naturally, the number of labs a student takes could be influenced by many factors, including programmatic resources and the requirements of different engineering sub-disciplines. Accordingly, catalogs and program requirements were collected from several engineering disciplines and from the top and bottom of college rankings. The number of lab and non-lab classes in each program were compared in a statistical linear model that accounted for the rank of the program and the engineering sub-discipline.

Results show that there are significant differences between the distributions of number of labs in electrical and mechanical engineering curricula, but that there are not significant differences based on the ranking of the schools. The results show that 50.1% of the required engineering classes in an undergraduate electrical engineering program contain hardware-based laboratories, and 39.1% of mechanical engineering courses require laboratories. The high proportion of laboratory classes in curricula reaffirms the importance of research into the pedagogy of laboratory design.

Byrnes, E., & Mahsud, Y. A., & Rosen, S., & Spencer, M. (2020, June), A Survey of the Proportion of Classes in Undergraduate Engineering Curricula that Include Labs Paper presented at 2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual On line . 10.18260/1-2--34066

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