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Examining skill retention from a redesigned laboratory course to capstone design sequence

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2013 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Atlanta, Georgia

Publication Date

June 23, 2013

Start Date

June 23, 2013

End Date

June 26, 2013



Conference Session

Outstanding Contributions to Student Learning through Laboratory Experiences

Tagged Division

Division Experimentation & Lab-Oriented Studies

Page Count


Page Numbers

23.558.1 - 23.558.15

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Paper Authors


Bridget M. Smyser Northeastern University

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Assistant Academic Specialist and Director of Laboratories

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Gregory J Kowalski Northeastern University

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Examining skill retention from a redesigned laboratory course to capstone design sequenceAt ________ University, Measurements and Analysis is a laboratory course typically takenduring the junior year. Certain topics such as design of experiments, measurement of engineeringquantities, data analysis, and selection of sensors are covered only in this course. Recently thiscourse underwent an extensive redesign to move from demonstration type lab experiments tohands on, open ended lab experiences which emphasized the students’ ability to determine whatvariables needed to be measured and to choose the correct instrumentation for a particular task.Previous research by one of the authors demonstrated measureable gains in retention of courseconcepts and the application of those concepts during a ‘design your own measurementexperiment’ term project. The purpose of the current study is to determine whether these skillshave been carried over into the two semester capstone design course. If the earlier course iseffective in teaching experimental design and laboratory techniques, this should translate to moresophisticated experimental design and execution in the capstone design course. To determinewhether these concepts have been retained in the capstone design course, design reports wereexamined to note the instances of Measurements and Analysis topics in the design projects.Reports were examined for student populations that had taken the revised course and werecompared to reports for students who had taken the original course with the same instructor. Ablocked experimental design was used which examined cohorts of students that had the sameinstructor for Measurements and Analysis so that only one variable, the new lab experiments inMeasurements and Analysis was tested. Both the number of topics addressed and the number ofinstances of each topic was noted. Preliminary results indicate that the groups that took therevised lab course were considering more topics from that course at a much earlier point in theircapstone design project. Prior to the change in the Measurements course, the design teams didnot consider design of experiments topics until relatively late in their design process, if at all.After the change in the lab course, a larger number of groups were using a larger number oftopics even at the end of the first of the two capstone design semesters. The two groups ofstudents that took the old version of the lab course had 67% and 50% of the projects in which 1-5topics from the lab course were noticeably carried over into the final capstone design. In contrastthe two groups of students who took capstone after the revised lab course was instituted had 63%and 67% of the projects use 1-5 topics from the lab course at the end of only the first semester. Ifthe trend continues, it will indicate that the new lab skills learned in the revised course are indeedbeing retained and used in subsequent courses, validating the benefits of the changes. Thisinvestigation provides evidence that hands on, open ended experiments provide a teachingmethodology which improves student material retention of proper experimental solutiontechniques.

Smyser, B. M., & Kowalski, G. J. (2013, June), Examining skill retention from a redesigned laboratory course to capstone design sequence Paper presented at 2013 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Atlanta, Georgia.

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