June 24, 2017
June 24, 2017
June 28, 2017
Traditional “follow-the-steps” laboratories associated with many engineering courses have limited learning benefits and poorly prepare students to design or conduct experiments as mandated by ABET criterion 3b. The laboratory section of our junior-level Medical Electronics course was redesigned based on the inquiry-based approach. In this approach, the goal of the experiment is specified, but the procedures are largely devised by the students with limited guidance from the instructor. For each assignment of our laboratories, students were tasked to design an electronic circuit or an experiment to characterize an electronic component. Students received primary sources such as application notes and data sheets, as well as a few questions to orient their preparation. However, in contrast to the practice of traditional laboratories, a circuit diagram including component values, or a plan for the experiment including information about the measurements to obtain was not provided. Each laboratory session started with a discussion moderated by the instructor and teaching assistant aimed at establishing a layout for the circuit or a template for the design of the experiment. Two laboratory sections enrolled 23 and 24 students respectively, who completed six “one-session” laboratories and two mini-projects spread over several weeks (electromyogram amplifier and blood pressure monitor). An anonymous student survey was conducted at the end of the semester to gather student feedback about the inquiry-based format used in these laboratories (22 respondents). Quantitative questions scored on a 1-5 Likert scale indicated the students found the laboratory format challenging (score = 4.5). Students perceived they were not sufficiently prepared (score = 2.5) and that the pre-laboratory assignments were not sufficient to prepare for the laboratories (score = 2.2). They reported spending 4.5 hours on the pre-lab assignment and 5.5 hours on the laboratory report, which they perceived to be much longer than the laboratory work in other courses. Several questions comprised a comment field. The students’ statements were analyzed to identify categories of concepts in the comments. “Unclear expectations” was mentioned most often (18 mentions) indicating that the students were unsettled by the lack of directions. A few students mentioned that they became used to the format as the semester progressed. “Concern about grading” also appeared often in the students’ comments (14 mentions). The students found the laboratories “educational” (11 mentions), “time-consuming” (11 mentions), and they reported that one instructor + one teaching assistant to advise them during the laboratories was “insufficient” (10 mentions).
To help students adapt to the inquiry-based laboratory model, we will include in future offerings additional information about expected products in the form of checklists. A gradual ramping up of the grading scheme will be implemented to allow students to adapt to the new approach. Short “best practices” videos will be presented to teach students breadboard wiring and use of the test equipment. Online questions and answers sessions will be introduced to help students prepare for the laboratories.
Maarek, J. I. (2017, June), Student feedback in inquiry-based laboratories for Medical Electronics course Paper presented at 2017 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Columbus, Ohio. https://peer.asee.org/28859
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