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Asking Students To Design Their Own Laboratory Experiments

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2000 Annual Conference


St. Louis, Missouri

Publication Date

June 18, 2000

Start Date

June 18, 2000

End Date

June 21, 2000



Page Count


Page Numbers

5.112.1 - 5.112.7



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Paper Authors

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Joseph R.V. Flora

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

Session 2451

Asking Students to Design their Own Laboratory Experiments Joseph R.V. Flora University of South Carolina – Columbia


An undergraduate environmental engineering laboratory class was revised to include an open experiment in addition to traditional experiments. Each student group identified a problem, designed an experiment to address the problem, performed the experiment, and documented the results with a laboratory report. The topics selected were remediation of acid mine drainage, evaluating different absorbents for oil spills, evaluating water quality of campus buildings, and evaluating water quality in local rivers. An evaluative questionnaire was distributed to the students to assess the effectiveness of the open experiment compared to the traditional experiments in enhancing the student learning experience. A statistical analysis performed on the responses to several items on the questionnaire showed that students believed that the open experiment provided a better learning experience compared to traditional experiments. Student responses to open-ended questions revealed that most students enjoyed the experience of performing an open experiment and that it should be included as part of the laboratory class.


An ongoing movement to improve the science and engineering education experience has stimulated reforms in the approaches professors take to deliver education1-4. The renewed emphasis on enhancing student learning5,6 has resulted in various reforms ranging from the fundamental programmatic approach (e.g., revision of an entire program to include design at all levels7 and use of clinic classes at all levels8) to the more modest, typically single professor, approach (e.g., using multimedia programs9 and virtual instruments10 in laboratory courses).

This paper presents the author’s experience in implementing open experiments in an undergraduate environmental engineering laboratory course. The rationale behind including open experiments in the course was to help students gain a better perspective in identifying and addressing open-ended problems. Such an approach has been used with varying degrees of success in environmental engineering8 and in other fields11-14. The purpose of this paper is to provide additional information that is directly relevant to and potentially useful for laboratory professors in environmental engineering. The class schedule, necessary preparations, difficulties encountered, and results of the end-of-semester evaluations are described.

Course Description

ECIV 350 (Introduction to Environmental Engineering) and ECIV 350L (Introduction to Environmental Engineering Laboratory) are junior-level undergraduate courses offered at the

Flora, J. R. (2000, June), Asking Students To Design Their Own Laboratory Experiments Paper presented at 2000 Annual Conference, St. Louis, Missouri. 10.18260/1-2--8169

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