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Factors that Affect Student Frustration Level in Introductory Laboratory Experiences

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2012 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


San Antonio, Texas

Publication Date

June 10, 2012

Start Date

June 10, 2012

End Date

June 13, 2012



Conference Session

Improving the Pedagogy of Laboratory Courses

Tagged Division

Division Experimentation & Lab-Oriented Studies

Page Count


Page Numbers

25.629.1 - 25.629.7



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Paper Authors

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Tomas Estrada Elizabethtown College

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Sara A. Atwood Elizabethtown College

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Factors that affect student frustration level in introductory laboratory experiencesAbstract Laboratory-based courses have long been an integral part of undergraduate curricula inboth engineering and basic sciences, and much research has been devoted to gauging andimproving their effectiveness1,2. However, particularly in introductory courses with studentsfrom different majors and academic backgrounds, conducting successful laboratory experiencescontinues to entail many challenges, including the mitigation of student frustration level. Studieshave shown that frustration may impede progress towards learning goals3, and various authorshave studied frustration in different settings, such as web-based courses4 and programmingcourses5. We build upon these ideas by investigating the impact on student frustration of variousfactors in laboratory-based courses. Our purpose is to identify qualities of successfulintroductory laboratory experiences which may help mitigate student frustration. Our study focused on two introductory level laboratory courses (College PhysicsLaboratory I and College Physics Laboratory II) within the ABET-accredited generalengineering curriculum at a small (less than 2,000) regional liberal arts college. Total enrollmentin these courses was 34 students, primarily freshmen and sophomores (94%), spanningengineering majors (41%) of different concentrations (electrical, mechanical, computer, andindustrial), as well as basic sciences majors (59%), including a total of 17 women (50%).Following several of the laboratory sessions, the students filled out a survey about theirfrustration level during the experiment, their perception of the length of the laboratory session,the primary causes of their frustration (equipment or troubleshooting issues, difficulty withtheoretical concepts, lack of support from the instructor, confusing lab document, difficultyworking with partner, or outside distractions), whether there were any pre-lab exercises andwhether these were helpful, whether the instructor’s introduction was too brief or too prolonged,as well as their confidence level regarding both the technical and theoretical aspects of thecourse. We then examined the relationship between the characteristics of their laboratoryexperience and their self-reported frustration level. The factor that was most often cited as a cause of frustration was difficulties withequipment and troubleshooting, followed by difficulty with concepts from the theory, andconfusing lab documents. In fact, in the two laboratory sessions where the average frustrationlevel was rated as highest, 78% of the students cited equipment issues as a cause of frustration.Interestingly, for the experiment with the highest average frustration level, the second leadingcause was confusing lab documents (61% of the students). This points towards the necessity toplace particular emphasis on clear documents for introductory laboratory courses, as well asspending more time helping students with instrumentation and troubleshooting. The studentsgenerally felt that the 15-minute introduction by the instructor was appropriate and that, whenassigned, pre-lab exercises were helpful. Students' confidence level about the technical aspects ofthe course correlated inversely with frustration level, but their confidence level about thetheoretical aspects of the course did not show a clear trend. These results can help craftintroductory laboratory experiences with lower student frustration levels.References1. M. Sundberg and G. Moncada, Creating Effective Investigative Laboratories for Undergraduates, BioScience,Vol. 44, No. 10 (1994), pp. 698-704.2. L.D. Feisel and A.J. Rosa, The Role of the Laboratory in Undergraduate Enginering Education, Journal ofEngineering Education, Vol. 94, No. 1. (2005), pp. 121-130.3. S. McQuiggan, S. Lee, and J. Lester, Early Prediction of Student Frustration, ACII Proceedings of the 2ndinternational conference on Affective Computing and Intelligent Interaction. 2007.4. M. Rodrigo and R. Baker, Coarse-grained detection of student frustration in an introductory programming course,Proceedings of the fifth international workshop on Computing education research workshop, 2009.5. N. Hara and R. King, Students' frustrations with a Web-based distance education course, First Monday, Vol. 4,No. 12 (1999).

Estrada, T., & Atwood, S. A. (2012, June), Factors that Affect Student Frustration Level in Introductory Laboratory Experiences Paper presented at 2012 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, San Antonio, Texas. 10.18260/1-2--21386

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