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Laboratory Special Topic Reports

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2003 Annual Conference


Nashville, Tennessee

Publication Date

June 22, 2003

Start Date

June 22, 2003

End Date

June 25, 2003



Conference Session

Trends in Mechanical Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

8.803.1 - 8.803.6



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Paper Authors

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Tracy Volz

author page

David McStravick

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

of limited success. To improve the results, the in the way of constructive criticism on the course was revised to include individual library papers. Feedback from the students on course research reports, which were completed during evaluation was not favorable (about 25% the first week of class. These reports addressed indicated that this exercise was not very issues such as significant figures, error analysis, productive); the quality of the papers was not as and units. Additionally, the resources of the high as the authors anticipated. On further Cain Project (see Appendix A) were enlisted to reflection, the authors decided to change the improve the writing skills of the students. The format so that less time would be spent meeting Cain Project provides a group of faculty in small groups to discuss the students’ papers members that specialize in communications and peer review would be dropped. training to be available for the evaluation of In fall 2002, the revised approach was used in a these initial reports. This approach allowed senior laboratory course, which contained identification of students with report writing essentially the same students as in the previous deficiencies before the formal laboratory reports spring fluids lab course. The topic chosen for were submitted and offered an opportunity to this paper related to error analysis. The give feedback and suggestions for improved students were required to write a short paper on reports. “Cold Fusion” (see the assignment in Appendix B). This topic was chosen because it was felt In spring 2002, the first library research report that it would be new to these students and was assigned on significant figures. The engage their interest. The students were asked students were required to write a report on the to report facts related to the incident and give determination of an accurate value for a an opinion regarding the culpability of the Cold fundamental constant (e.g. the speed of light). Fusion researchers. Also, they were required to The students could choose any topic, but they relate the consequences of this event to needed to give some history and discuss how engineering work in general and to this the experiment(s) achieved the reported laboratory course in particular. accuracy with emphasis on the difficulty of The results of the revised approach represented achieving the high accuracy. The students wrote a significant improvement over the previous the reports and were required to exchange spring’s project: the reports were of a higher papers and critique another student’s report caliber and the students showed a strong using a peer review evaluation form. The peer interest in the topic. The majority of the reports review exercise was used because many of the contained complete abstracts, well-supported students have excellent writing skills and could arguments, and references. The progress made mentor the weaker students. The reports and by several student writers in the course can best critiques were reviewed by a Cain Project be illustrated with a specific example. The faculty member, and the students met in small abstracts submitted for the two library report groups with the reviewer to discuss the reports assignments by the same student appear below. overall and to respond to specific questions on The student’s first abstract on significant figures individual reports. The organization and style of is wordy and leaves many key questions the reports were consistently good. However, unanswered: Why was this problem significant? many of student writers did not know what kinds Why was it difficult? What were the of information ought to be included in an experimental milestones? How does the abstract. They did not provide specific evidence accuracy of the constant relate to significant to support their claims. Their conclusions were figures? The same student’s second library irrelevant or exaggerated, and their sources report abstract on Cold Fusion summarizes were not documented properly. As a final step many of the key points and does so in half the the students were encouraged to rewrite their words. While a couple of questions do remain reports based on the feedback provided, for unanswered, such as what experimental result which they received a partial credit to improve led to Pons and Fleischmann’s announcement, their final grade on the report. Most students the Cold Fusion abstract explains who did what, submitted a revision, and the final products why it was significant, and what lesson was were evaluated. This grade represented one- learned. sixteenth of the final grade in the course. The authors’ evaluation of this first project was that it Significant Figures Abstract: had a limited success; peer review was not of This report addresses the importance of the expected caliber: most students offered little significant figures in laboratory work. The


Volz, T., & McStravick, D. (2003, June), Laboratory Special Topic Reports Paper presented at 2003 Annual Conference, Nashville, Tennessee. 10.18260/1-2--11909

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