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Improving Design Of Experiment Skills Through A Project Based Fluids Laboratory

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2002 Annual Conference


Montreal, Canada

Publication Date

June 16, 2002

Start Date

June 16, 2002

End Date

June 19, 2002



Conference Session

Advancing Thermal Science Education

Page Count


Page Numbers

7.642.1 - 7.642.13



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Paper Authors

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Risa Robinson

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Session ___

Improving Design of Experiment Skills through a Project Based Fluids Laboratory

Risa J. Robinson Rochester Institute of Technology

1.0 Introduction

The educational community recognizes that the typical engineering curriculum has steadily decreased the emphasis on the study of experimental techniques for problem solving. 1 Industry partners suggest there is a need to place a greater emphasis on the study and practice of experimentation in the engineering curriculum.2 These recent trends are supported by results from exit interviews of Mechanical Engineering (ME) seniors at Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT). Students commented that more hands on data acquisition and open ended projects throughout the curriculum would be extremely valuable in preparation for their capstone senior design course.

Laboratory courses, which are often used simply to demonstrate theoretical material, are an excellent opportunity for students to learn and practice problem solving skills. However, we must move away from traditional canned experiments, with step by step instructions and known outcomes, to open ended experiments that challenge students intellectually and encourage creativity. This experience is consistent with the Kolby Learning Cycle, 3 which is completed by asking the questions, why, what, how, and what if? The traditional canned experiment often gets from why and what in the lecture portion to how in the lab portion, but in many cases does not give the student the opportunity to ask and answer what if? Open ended projects require students to not only complete the cycle once, but to make several revolutions before a solution is found.

As a pilot, the ME department at RIT decided to revise a Thermo/Fluids Laboratory from the current theme of theory verification and deviation to an open ended project based experience. The development of the pilot was based on studies which demonstrated that open ended projects are consistent pedagogically with learning cycles and seen by the students as a critical component of their education. For example, students at the University of Pittsburgh, who were enrolled in a special pilot course developed an Automatic Data Collection Laboratory. 4 Waitz (1997) 5 describes an experimental projects lab pilot at Massachusetts Institute of Technology that resulted in excellent student feedback over 3 years. Mahendran (1995) 6 describes the success of a project based civil engineering course at the Queensland University of Technology. Dally and Zhang (1993)7 from the University of Maryland demonstrated the benefit of students completing a design and redesign cycle for their open ended projects. Results from these studies are consistent with those found in our pilot course.

“Proceedings of the 2002 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition Copyright ã 2002, American Society for Engineering Education”

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Robinson, R. (2002, June), Improving Design Of Experiment Skills Through A Project Based Fluids Laboratory Paper presented at 2002 Annual Conference, Montreal, Canada. 10.18260/1-2--10863

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