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Living With The Lab: Update On The Second Year Of Full Implementation For Over 400 First Year Engineering Students

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2009 Annual Conference & Exposition


Austin, Texas

Publication Date

June 14, 2009

Start Date

June 14, 2009

End Date

June 17, 2009



Conference Session

NSF Grantees Poster Session

Page Count


Page Numbers

14.853.1 - 14.853.11



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Paper Authors


David Hall Louisiana Tech University

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David Hall is the James F. Naylor, Jr. Endowed Professor and the Program Chair for Mechanical Engineering at Louisiana Tech University. He received his B.S. from Louisiana Tech and his M.S. and Ph.D. from Georgia Tech. His research interests include trenchless technology and engineering education.

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Mark Barker Louisiana Tech University

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Mark Barker is a Lecturer in Mechanical Engineering at Louisiana Tech University. He received his Ph.D. from Clemson University where he specialized in flow structures and optical flow diagnostics. He facilitates entrepreneurial activities for students and faculty through the Center for Entrepreneurship and Information Technology (CEnIT).

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James Nelson Louisiana Tech University

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James Nelson is the Associate Dean for Undergraduate Studies in the College of Engineering and Science at Louisiana Tech University. He is a strong proponent of hands-on, integrative learning strategies and actively promotes the implementation of such strategies in the College.

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

Living with the Lab: Update on the Second Year of Full Implementation for Over 400 First-Year Engineering Students


Two years ago a robotics-centered sequence of three first-year engineering courses was expanded to include all beginning engineering students as part of an NSF CCLI grant. The objective of this course sequence is to immerse students in a skill-based, project-driven curriculum that builds creativity and a can-do spirit. Students purchase a Parallax BASIC Stamp controller, sensors, servos, and software to provide the basis for a mobile laboratory and design platform; this mobile platform, which is owned and maintained by the students, provides a mechanism for boosting experiential learning to a level that would be difficult to achieve using university-owned equipment and supplies. We call our educational approach “Living with the Lab.”

The curriculum seeks to weave together topics from engineering systems, electromechanical devices, fabrication of prototypes, specification and acquisition of parts and supplies, software, fundamental engineering concepts, communication, and broadening activities. The project-focus starts by utilizing the Boe-Bot kit early in the year and then moves away from the “kit” as students develop a system to provide closed-loop control of the temperature and salinity of a small volume of water. The final project is an open-ended design project where students conceive, design, fabricate, test and present a “smart product” that utilizes the hardware employed throughout the year.

An update on our efforts to expand the curriculum from a pilot group of approximately 40 students to 433 students in the fall of 2009 is provided, including our efforts to train a team of faculty to teach the courses, purchasing supplies and equipment to facilitate the projects, and preparing course materials available to students via the web.


The College of Engineering and Science at Louisiana Tech University has implemented a project-intensive first-year experience for all engineering students. The new curriculum seeks to provide a major boost in experiential learning by putting the maintenance and ownership of the laboratory in the hands of the students. Each student is required to purchase a laptop, a robot kit, several software packages, and a tool kit to provide a standard platform for laboratory and design activities. Student ownership of the laboratory expands the scope of hands-on activities that can be undertaken; we call this new curriculum “Living with the Lab.” Coupling technology, including computer modeling, programming, control, measurement and fabrication, with engineering fundamentals provides a rich first-year experience that builds a strong technical foundation while fostering a creative and innovative spirit in our students. This paper describes our first-year experience and discusses some of the challenges of scaling the curriculum up from 40 to 433 students.

Hall, D., & Barker, M., & Nelson, J. (2009, June), Living With The Lab: Update On The Second Year Of Full Implementation For Over 400 First Year Engineering Students Paper presented at 2009 Annual Conference & Exposition, Austin, Texas. 10.18260/1-2--5271

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