June 20, 2010
June 20, 2010
June 23, 2010
Division Experimentation & Lab-Oriented Studies
15.859.1 - 15.859.14
Measurement of Hands-On Ability Introduction
“Practical ingenuity,” according the National Academy of Engineering, is a necessary attribute for the engineer of 20201. Hands-on ability is considered an important characteristic of practical ingenuity2. Two of the ABET criteria address hands-on skills: ability to design and conduct experiments and interpret data (criteria b); and ability to use the techniques, skills, and modern engineering tools necessary for engineering practice (criteria k)3. Employers value hands-on ability and routinely ask recruits about hands-on experiences outside of classes4. A “tinkering deficit” has also been identified that puts females at a disadvantage in the workplace5.
Hands-on ability is a critical component of a successful engineer, but can it be measured? A measure could be useful in several ways. As an assessment measure, it would provide the feedback necessary to improve the teaching of hands-on ability. By observing how students with high and low hands-on ability carry out hands-on tasks, we can identify differences in their strategies, developing a list of attributes that help define hands-on ability. By surveying students of high and low hands-on ability about their prior experiences, we can learn where hands-on ability comes from. By surveying students of varying hands-on ability about their attitude toward engineering, we can learn how hands-on ability and students’ views on engineering are related.
This paper describes our efforts to measure hands-on ability and to use that measure to explore relationships with prior experiences and student attitudes and emotions.
We attempted to devise a hands-on test that measures hands-on ability. Initially, we recruited eight mechanical engineering students and eight electrical engineering students for a pilot study. All students were sophomore level engineers at our institution. We devised both “easy” and “hard” hands-on tasks for the mechanical and electrical engineering students. For the mechanical engineering students, the “hard” task involved the measurement of pressure on a pipe rig used in a fluids lab course, and the “easy” task involved the centering of a cylindrical part on a roundness tester. For the electrical engineers, the “hard” task involved troubleshooting a circuit that was malfunctioning. The “easy” task asked the students to construct a circuit to illuminate a light emitting diode given a power supply and several components. Four students were assigned to each task, with each student only performing one task. Students were videotaped while doing the tasks, and two raters coded each video. The students were given documentation stating a goal of the task and basic instructions to complete the task. Each student performed the task individually on separate occasions. There was a single lab assistant present for each task. One lab instructor supervised all mechanical engineering tasks and another supervised all electrical engineering tasks. For the mechanical engineering task, the lab instructor was the female and for the electrical engineering task the instructor was male. The lab instructor was intentionally preoccupied with work, but stated they were available for questions. Typically, the lab assistant would only become involved if the student asked a question.
Pereira, A., & Miller, M., & Hutchins, M., & Helton, W., & VanArsdale, C., & Bohmann, L. (2010, June), Measurement Of Hands On Ability Paper presented at 2010 Annual Conference & Exposition, Louisville, Kentucky. https://peer.asee.org/16667
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