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Improving The Learning Process Of Laboratory Instruction

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2004 Annual Conference


Salt Lake City, Utah

Publication Date

June 20, 2004

Start Date

June 20, 2004

End Date

June 23, 2004



Conference Session

Improving Teaching & Learning

Page Count


Page Numbers

9.711.1 - 9.711.10



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Paper Authors

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Dennis Truax

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

Session: 2230

Improving the Learning Process of Laboratory Instruction Dennis D. Truax, Ph.D., P.E., DEE, F.ASCE Department of Civil Engineering, Mississippi State University Box 9546, Mississippi, State, MS 39762-9546 PH (662) 325-7187; FAX (662) 325-7189 email:


There is little doubt that a laboratory experience can be beneficial in the learning process of undergraduate engineering students. Relating the textbook and the lecture to hands-on observations can help resolve inhibitions in concept perception and produce clarity of key issues. Unfortunately, time constrains faculty development and execution of laboratories and can reduce this potentially beneficial experience to little more then conducting tried and true experiments semester after semester. As a result, students find old laboratory reports to be an equally expedient at fulfilling assignments leading to lot of busy work that neither the instructor nor the student benefit from.

This paper will overview approach, application, and benefit of abandoning the cookbook approach to conducting the undergraduate laboratory experience. The concept relies on the undergraduate students, working in teams, to design and conduct experiments. The instructor acts as a mentor and resource during the process, and insures quality of the laboratory exercise without having to be the sole responsive party. By taking ownership of the experiment, the students’ learning is increased and the laboratory experience is enhanced. This is due, in part, to experiments being tailored to the students’ needs and interests which is a result of their direct involvement. Finally, concepts of team building and experimental design are introduced. Surveys and testing of students involved in this approach suggest a strong positive outcome. In addition to objective outcome assessment of participating groups, several years of applying this approach have defined pitfalls to be avoided.


An issue impacting the undergraduate laboratory experience is the enormous financial pressure faced by engineering departments struggling to address increased enrollments, static budgets, and the desire to maintain educational quality.1 Hands-on laboratories are typically expensive to develop and support. Involving faculty in this activity generally reduces departmental productivity as laboratory classes produce fewer credit hours for the amount of contact time required.

Still, there is little doubt that a laboratory experience can be beneficial to the learning process for undergraduate students. The opportunity to relate the textbook and the lecture to observations

Proceedings of the 2004 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition Copyright © 2004, American Society for Engineering Education

Truax, D. (2004, June), Improving The Learning Process Of Laboratory Instruction Paper presented at 2004 Annual Conference, Salt Lake City, Utah. 10.18260/1-2--14077

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