Asee peer logo

Hands On Experimental Error! Improving Students' Understanding Of Error Analysis

Download Paper |


2006 Annual Conference & Exposition


Chicago, Illinois

Publication Date

June 18, 2006

Start Date

June 18, 2006

End Date

June 21, 2006



Conference Session

ChE: Experimental Design & Error Analysis

Tagged Division

Chemical Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

11.677.1 - 11.677.9



Permanent URL

Download Count


Request a correction

Paper Authors


Stephanie Farrell Rowan University

visit author page

STEPHANIE FARRELL is Associate Professor of Chemical Engineering at Rowan University. She received her B.S. from the University of Pennsylvania, her MS from Stevens Institute of Technology, and her Ph.D. from New Jersey Institute of Technology. Prior to joining Rowan in September, 1998, she was a faculty member in Chemical Engineering at Louisiana Tech University. Stephanie's current educational research focuses on the role of hands-on experiments in inductive learning.

visit author page

Download Paper |

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

Hands-on Experimental Error! Improving Students’ Understanding of Error Analysis

Introduction An understanding of error analysis is crucial for the scientist or engineer who must estimate uncertainties in experimental measurements and reduce them when necessary. Error analysis is a vital part of any experiment; without appropriate error analysis, meaningful conclusions cannot be drawn from the data. Unfortunately, as pointed out by Taylor 1, error analysis is often introduced through handouts containing formulas which students are simply told to use in their laboratory reports. Students fail to grasp the underlying concepts and rationale and to develop the insight which makes error analysis a truly interesting and important part of the laboratory experience. The motivation for the development of this workshop was a perceived need to improve lower level engineering students’ grasp of basic concepts of error analysis. While students at Rowan University were previously introduced to these basic concepts in introductory science courses (and to a limited extend, during lecture periods in the introductory engineering course), error analysis was often neglected entirely in engineering reports unless the details of the requirement were explicitly listed in the assignment. If present, error analysis was often inaccurate and meaningless– a cursory sentence or rote calculation included at the end of the report. For example, human error was frequently cited as a source of error in experimental procedure – with the implication that this is acceptable, legitimate, or unavoidable. In the laboratory, students failed to use techniques to reduce experimental error when necessary. Data were often not reported correctly to reflect uncertainty in measurement, and simple statistical techniques were rarely used to analyze error. A variety of methods for the introduction of error analysis to lower level engineering students have been described by other educators. Sterrett and Helgeson2 used parametric computer simulations to introduce error analysis to sophomores in a design course. Reardon3 introduces linear regression and propagation of error analysis through a hands-on design project in a freshman engineering course. Rubino4 describes a project-based freshman Engineering Technology course in which one module which introduces students to gross, systematic, and random error via hands-on measurements. The workshop described in this paper comprises a series of hands-on activities in which students conduct a variety of measurements and calculations in a familiar context, allowing experimental error and error analysis to become the primary focus of the investigation without being obscured by new theoretical subject content or extensive report writing. This workshop was performed during a three-hour laboratory period at the beginning of the semester, prior to conducting any laboratory experiments which introduced new engineering concepts. A dramatic improvement was observed in the treatment of experimental error and analysis in the students’ laboratory reports, and this was maintained throughout the semester. The hands-on nature of the workshop and the use of a familiar context in which to present new concepts are thought to be key elements in the success of this project.

Farrell, S. (2006, June), Hands On Experimental Error! Improving Students' Understanding Of Error Analysis Paper presented at 2006 Annual Conference & Exposition, Chicago, Illinois. 10.18260/1-2--244

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: © 2006 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