Asee peer logo

Field Investigations: An Overlooked Form of Laboratory Experience

Download Paper |


2018 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Salt Lake City, Utah

Publication Date

June 23, 2018

Start Date

June 23, 2018

End Date

July 27, 2018

Conference Session

Division for Experimentation & Lab-oriented Studies Technical Session 3

Tagged Division

Experimentation and Laboratory-Oriented Studies

Page Count




Permanent URL

Download Count


Request a correction

Paper Authors


David F. Radcliffe Swinburne University of Technology

visit author page

Dr. Radcliffe's research focuses on the nature of engineering; engineering habits of mind, how engineering knowledge is created and shared and how it is learned especially outside the classroom. Over the past 30 years, he has conducted field research on the practice of engineering design, new product development and innovation in variety of industries, in large and small firms with an emphasis on design thinking, most recently in relation to sustainability. He also studies engineering education as a complex system, and the design and evaluation of next generation learning environments. This research is intrinsically multidisciplinary and draws on methodologies from the humanities, social and behavioral sciences and involves collaboration with anthropologists, learning scientists, librarians, designers, and architects.

visit author page


Mary K. Pilotte Purdue University, West Lafayette

visit author page

Mary Pilotte is Associate Professor of Engineering Practice in the School of Engineering Education at Purdue University, West Lafayette, Indiana. She is an instructor for Multidisciplinary engineering coursework, and is Director of the undergraduate Interdisciplinary Engineering Studies and Multidisciplinary Engineering program. She also is an instructor in executive and global MBA programs. With over 20 years of industrial work experience, and supportive of her academic roles, Mary actively leads academic outreach to industrial firms to develop in/out of classroom, project-based, active learning through identification of authentic, in-context problem scenarios and the embedded cadence of practice. Pilotte’s research interests involve understanding generation-based engineering culture, identity, and communication in the context of professional engineering practice. Expanded interests include understanding student benefits associated with in-context active learning, and the intersection of engineering education and neurodiversity. She holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Organizational Leadership and Supervision from Purdue University, an MBA from the Goizueta School of Business, Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia, and a Ph.D. in Engineering Education from Purdue University.

visit author page

Download Paper |


The types of learning activities that are accepted as constituting a legitimate laboratory experience have expanded considerably over the past decade or so. Traditionally, laboratory instruction was taken to involve hands-on activities around measuring quantitative, technical data associated with some physical phenomenon or the performance of an engineered artefact. More recently virtual laboratories based on computer simulation and remote labs where physical or virtual equipment is accessed at a distance using the internet have become accepted under the umbrella of “laboratory”. The proposed new ABET Criteria 3 (Student Outcomes) has broadened somewhat in respect of experimentation, thereby presenting an opportunity for discussion around laboratory contexts.

This paper argues we should adopt a more expansive understanding of what counts as a “laboratory”; one that recognizes the reality that practicing engineers must be adept at creating and conducting investigations that take into account not only technical factors but also the socio-cultural, economic and even ethical aspects and impacts of an engineering project. This might include gathering data of many types; technical and non-technical, qualitative and quantitative, captured and analyzed in a variety of media. Interpreting, making sense of, and development of inferences from such diverse data sets is a developmental extension of the skills acquired by a student in a traditional, technical laboratory setting. As such, what might be termed “socio-technical” laboratory experiences add to, rather than replace, laboratory instruction as we have known it. This paper focuses on one ubiquitous form of engineering experimentation with socio-technical dimensions, i.e. fieldwork. It uses a case study based on a novel Study Abroad program to illustrate the design and implementation of a socio-technical laboratory, one that emulates an experience of global engineering fieldwork.

Radcliffe, D. F., & Pilotte, M. K. (2018, June), Field Investigations: An Overlooked Form of Laboratory Experience Paper presented at 2018 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Salt Lake City, Utah. 10.18260/1-2--30516

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: © 2018 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