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Qualitative, Quantitative, Open Ended: A Progression In Laboratory/Lecture Learning

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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

Innovative Laboratories in BME

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Page Count


Page Numbers

11.1056.1 - 11.1056.7



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Paper Authors


Joe Tranquillo

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JOSEPH V TRANQUILLO is an assistant professor of biomedical and electrical engineering at Bucknell University. Dr. Tranquillo teaches courses primarily in bioinstrumentation. His research focuses on theoretical and computational models of electrical activity in the heart.

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

Qualitative, Quantitative, Open-Ended A Progression in Laboratory/Lecture Learning

Purpose: This paper describes the teaching of engineering concepts using a three-step progression in learning. The goal is to build students’ intuition and confidence in tackling the types of open-ended problems they will encounter when they graduate.

Introduction The valuable engineer is one who can “figure out” a difficult, open-ended problem. There are a number of quantitative skills that are involved in solving these types of problems which any credible engineer should posses. An outstanding engineer, however, couples intuition and experience with their technical skills. Rephrased, students are not engineers because they can solve problems in a book. They become engineers through the experience of solving open-ended problems. The traditional engineering education, however, places an enormous amount of emphasis on quantitative skills and little emphasis on intuition and solving real problems. Practicing the design process is often left to the senior design process or upper level electives.

This paper outlines a three-step progression in learning that can be implemented early in the engineering curriculum. Each step in the progression focuses on specific skills necessary to be a good engineer. The first experience is a hands-on lab that encourages experimentation without the expectation of numerical results. These laboratory experiences are used to motivate technical lectures. The second experience is the traditional technical lab, focusing on results. The third experience is a student-driven, open-ended design lab. Thus far, this three-step progression has been used in Bucknell University’s Introduction to Engineering (First Year level) and Fundamentals of Biomedical Engineering courses (Sophomore level) and will be used in a circuits course and a signals and systems course (both Junior level) during the spring 2006 semester.

Qualitative Many students enter college with deep-rooted misconceptions. These misconceptions can often lead to poor intuition and difficulty identifying problems. The qualitative lab is designed to directly confront misconceptions and allow free exploration. For example, to demonstrate the concept of skin resistance I asked my students put a 9V battery on their arm and tongue and then explain the difference. To my surprise (and theirs once they put the battery on their tongue) only a handful of student had ever tried this. The purposes of beginning a new section with a qualitative lab are:

1) Students have an opportunity to experiment with physical models. 2) There is an active event that signals to the students that a new section has begun. 3) The relevance of the subject matter can be reinforced so students become invested in the lectures. The data they collect often provides useful examples for class.

Tranquillo, J. (2006, June), Qualitative, Quantitative, Open Ended: A Progression In Laboratory/Lecture Learning Paper presented at 2006 Annual Conference & Exposition, Chicago, Illinois. 10.18260/1-2--696

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