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Mechanical Measurements: Rewriting The Script

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2006 Annual Conference & Exposition


Chicago, Illinois

Publication Date

June 18, 2006

Start Date

June 18, 2006

End Date

June 21, 2006



Conference Session

Improving ME instructional laboratories

Tagged Division

Mechanical Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

11.920.1 - 11.920.13



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Paper Authors


Richard Layton Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology

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Richard A. Layton earned his doctorate from the University of Washington in 1995 and is currently an Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology. Prior to his academic career, Dr. Layton worked for twelve years in consulting engineering, culminating as a group head and a project manager. His professional interests include physical systems theory for modeling and simulation of dynamic systems and curriculum development and lab development in mechanical engineering.

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James Mayhew Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology

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James E. Mayhew received his Ph.D. from the University of California, Davis in 1999. He is currently an Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology. Prior to this, Dr. Mayhew was a US Air Force Officer, working in research, development, and logistics engineering for 6 years and teaching aeronautics at the US Air Force Academy for 5 years.

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

Mechanical Measurements: Rewriting the Script


In a recent paper, we describe specific steps to improve a mechanical engineering lab sequence by paying close attention to the learning objectives appropriate to engineering laboratories. Several recommendations are made for long-term improvements to our junior-level course in measurement systems. In the near-term, however, we have made substantive improvements to the mechanical measurements course within existing budgets and space and without increasing the course credit hours. These near-term improvements are the topic of this paper. The first improvement is the transformation of measurement-device lectures into 50-minute, “hands-on” mini-labs. The second improvement is the replacement of some labs with workshops on uncertainty analysis and experiment design. The third improvement is the narrowing of the focus of the student projects to allow time for greater depth and to better meet our learning objectives. The fourth improvement is “rewriting the script” of conventional experiments to improve student engagement and reduce the tendency of students to “take the data and get out.” We observed improvements in both the quality of the questions students ask during the term and the quality of their final presentations.


Traditional design of mechanical engineering laboratories is that of lectures supported by laboratory assignments or vice versa. Typical topics include the principles of measurement devices, data analysis, validation of engineering principles, and some experimental design. The typical objectives of such courses are for students to gain familiarity with basic experimental methods and technology and to validate engineering principles encountered in lecture courses such as system dynamics or fluid mechanics.

From conversations over several years with colleagues from various institutions, we note that mechanical engineering (ME) laboratory courses like ours often suffer from neglect and a low level of student engagement. In a previous paper [1] we describe a plan to improve ME labs by improving student engagement and by more closely meeting the learning objectives appropriate to engineering laboratories. The purpose of this paper is to present our accomplishments to date in the measurements course.

Prior condition of the measurements course

Our version of Mechanical Measurements is a two credit-hour, junior-level course that meets for one lecture hour and three lab hours per week. Course enrollment is limited to 24 students per section with three sections offered per term. All sections are team-taught by three faculty members. The lecture component of the course covers measurement technology and uncertainty analysis. Prior to our recent modifications, lectures were delivered simultaneously to all three sections in a theater-style lecture hall; students, in teams of four, conducted six scripted experiments and performed a modest experimental project.

Layton, R., & Mayhew, J. (2006, June), Mechanical Measurements: Rewriting The Script Paper presented at 2006 Annual Conference & Exposition, Chicago, Illinois. 10.18260/1-2--88

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