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How To Rescue A Poorly Operating Experiment In An Engineering Technology Lab And Turn It Into A "Real World" Learning Lesson

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2006 Annual Conference & Exposition


Chicago, Illinois

Publication Date

June 18, 2006

Start Date

June 18, 2006

End Date

June 21, 2006



Conference Session

Unique Laboratory Experiments and Programs

Tagged Division

Division Experimentation & Lab-Oriented Studies

Page Count


Page Numbers

11.702.1 - 11.702.9



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Paper Authors


Michael Koplow Northeastern University

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Mr.Koplow is an ADjunct instructor at Northeastern University and has instructed Thermodynamics for the mechanical engineering technology unit. He has over 30 years of experience in energy research and also operates a consulting company, Emdot Engineering.

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Francis Di Bella Northeastern University

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

ASEE 2006 Annual Conference 2006-346 Chicago, Ill Engineering Technology Division

How to Rescue a Poorly Operating Experiment in Engineering Technology and Change it into a “Real-World” Engineering Technology Learning Lesson Francis A. Di Bella, PE Director of School of Engineering Technology Michael Koplow, Adjunct Instructor Thermodynamics Northeastern University, Boston, MA

ABSTRACT A planned experiment that goes awry can never be completely avoided. Even the best planned lab experiment in an engineering technology course will suffer a somewhat embarrassing failure in the middle of the experiment, with a lab team of engineering technology students looking on, dispirited and possibly embarrassed for the seemingly helpless instructor. But this is the precise moment and opportunity when the engineering technology lesson can be enlivened and saved from failure and when the instructor can provide the greater lesson to the student which, in the words of the non-engineer Winston Churchill is: never give up, never give up, never give up! This paper explores the strategy of turning a lab experiment failure into an engineering technology learning lesson that will not soon be forgotten by the engineering technology student.

Background and Introduction Any Instructor or Teaching Assistant has likely had the experience of starting an engineering laboratory experiment only to find that the experiment does not work completely. This can be true even when the experiment “…worked a minute ago” during the trial test; before the students arrived at the experiment. In the instances where the experiment is conducted by only a Teaching Assistant (TA), the failure may not be brought to the classroom instructor’s attention and if it is, it is usually only after the class has struggled with the experiment and has given up on operating it during the time allotted for the lab and has left the lab for the next class.

This unfortunate but, in the opinion of this author, inevitable incident is particularly grievice for engineering technology students whose classroom work and attentions are heightened by the laboratory experience. The need for the lab to compliment the classroom work compels the Instructor to reschedule the lab. But this rescheduling is often difficult if possible at all due to the extensive course schedule that is being maintained by the engineering technology student.

The old adage about “…learning more from your mistakes” has an even more true (and longer) corollary that may be stated as: “Every failure is rife with opportunity to learn about the causes of the failure and the logical and rational diagnostic procedures that are employed to determine this cause typically results in the investigator in learning at an accelerated rate”. This paper presents the argument that the only satisfactory alternative

Koplow, M., & Di Bella, F. (2006, June), How To Rescue A Poorly Operating Experiment In An Engineering Technology Lab And Turn It Into A "Real World" Learning Lesson Paper presented at 2006 Annual Conference & Exposition, Chicago, Illinois. 10.18260/1-2--198

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