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Student Attitudes Towards Designing Experiments

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2010 Annual Conference & Exposition


Louisville, Kentucky

Publication Date

June 20, 2010

Start Date

June 20, 2010

End Date

June 23, 2010



Conference Session

Design Projects in Mechanical Engineering II

Tagged Division

Mechanical Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

15.1112.1 - 15.1112.13



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Paper Authors

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Bethany Fralick Purdue University

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Jed Lyons University of South Carolina

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

Student Attitudes towards Designing Experiments Abstract

The broad objective of this research is to contribute to our understanding of how mechanical engineers learn to design and conduct experiments. Specifically, this study investigated undergraduate student attitudes towards the design of open-ended experimental projects, and how these attitudes are different among freshmen, juniors and seniors. Freshman, junior, and senior mechanical engineering students all were given the same open-ended experimental design problem as part of required laboratory courses. The objective of the assignment was to design, construct, and conduct an experiment to determine the relationships between factors that affect the forces on a wooden beam that supports the weight of a person. Pre- and post-surveys were administered regarding student attitudes towards the problem. The surveys were statistically analyzed to identify similarities and differences within and between the student groups. Focus groups were also conducted to supplement the survey data.

Before designing the experiment, the freshmen and juniors differed in their attitudes towards the experimental design but felt the same afterwards. The freshmen were more frustrated and felt negatively towards the assignment initially. Pre/post analysis revealed no significant change in

after designing and performing the experiment, the juniors liked the assignment less. Their positive attitudes decreased to match the freshmen. The junior and senior attitudes were similar before designing the experiment. However, unlike the juniors, the seniors became more positive after the assignment was complete.

The unexpected effects of the experimental design experience that occurred with the junior students are of interest. The juniors initially felt they understood how to design an experiment but after performing it, they did not. On the pre-survey, 95% felt the task description was adequate compared to only 43% in the post-survey. Before completing the experiment, 19% of the juniors did not like the open-ended nature but 62% did not like the open-ended nature after performing the experiment. Finally, 14% of the juniors were frustrated with the lack of direction of the assignment before performing the experiment and 62% were frustrated after performing the experiment. It was observed from the focus group that initially the juniors were not affected negatively by the task, but ended up completing the assignment with a sense of opposition. The results suggest that the juniors initially thought it would be easy to design an experiment, but discovered that they did not know how to proceed. It is suggested that this may be attributed to the nature of the science laboratory courses taken by freshmen and sophomores at this institution, which consist largely of cookbook experiments. The results of this investigation indicate a need for exposure to engineering experimental design proces career.


Fralick, B., & Lyons, J. (2010, June), Student Attitudes Towards Designing Experiments Paper presented at 2010 Annual Conference & Exposition, Louisville, Kentucky. 10.18260/1-2--15664

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