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Engineering Laboratory Learning Objectives: A Study At Virginia Tech

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2003 Annual Conference


Nashville, Tennessee

Publication Date

June 22, 2003

Start Date

June 22, 2003

End Date

June 25, 2003



Conference Session

Unique Laboratory Experiments & Programs

Page Count


Page Numbers

8.502.1 - 8.502.20



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Paper Authors

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Michael Deisenroth

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

designed for a lecture course will not be sufficient for hands-on learning. Following is a summary of the findings of a study done on engineering laboratory learning objectives.

Case Study Introduction

This study serves as follow up to the colloquy on learning objectives for engineering education that ABET held in January of 2002 with support from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. The colloquy was held in response to the question of whether or not a remote laboratory can fulfill the goals of the traditional engineering laboratory.6 To determine if remote laboratories accomplish the goals of the laboratory experience it was first necessary to develop a comprehensive set of learning objectives that convey the attributes of engineering graduates that are developed in the laboratory setting. The direct result of the colloquy was a taxonomy of 13 laboratory learning objectives intended for use in improving traditional laboratories and providing a basis for remote laboratories to benchmark against. The objectives are listed here; their definitions may be found in Appendix A.

1) Instrumentation 6) Learn From Failure 11) Teamwork 2) Models 7) Creativity 12) Ethics in the Lab 3) Experiment 8) Psychomotor 13) Sensory Awareness 4) Data Analysis 9) Safety 5) Design 10) Communication

A near-term action item identified by the colloquy attendees was to, “Validate the…learning objectives…and note any new issues or challenges related to achieving them.” 6 The remainder of this paper describes a study done at Virginia Tech seeking to validate the learning objectives and to explore issues and challenges associated with them.


The set of objectives is intended to apply to any undergraduate engineering department, so a sample of four engineering departments was selected. Because any one course is not expected to fulfill all the objectives, data was collected for every required laboratory course in each department and the course data were combined to create a picture of each department.6 The four departments selected were Biological Systems Engineering (BSE), Civil and Environmental Engineering (CEE), Engineering Science and Mechanics (ESM), and Industrial and Systems Engineering (ISE). In departments with internal focus areas or concentrations, the “general” track was selected whenever possible. However, in BSE no “general” track exists, so each of the track options was analyzed separately. Two of the departments (CEE and ISE) are considered mainstream and general, while the other two (BSE and ESM) are less common and more area specific. To gain insight into all of the required undergraduate laboratory courses in each department, an interview was conducted with each laboratory instructor. It is worth noting that the participants of the colloquy defined the instructional laboratory experience as, “personal interaction with equipment/tools leading to the accumulation of knowledge and skills required in a practice-oriented profession.” 6 This definition dictated the set of courses included in the study.

Proceedings of the 2003 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition Copyright © 2003, American Society for Engineering Education

Deisenroth, M. (2003, June), Engineering Laboratory Learning Objectives: A Study At Virginia Tech Paper presented at 2003 Annual Conference, Nashville, Tennessee. 10.18260/1-2--12196

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: © 2003 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