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Student Led Design, Build, Testing And Usage Of In Course Experimental Laboratories

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2007 Annual Conference & Exposition


Honolulu, Hawaii

Publication Date

June 24, 2007

Start Date

June 24, 2007

End Date

June 27, 2007



Conference Session

Environmental Engineering Curricula III

Tagged Division

Environmental Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

12.1313.1 - 12.1313.12



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Paper Authors

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Khosrow Farahbakhsh School of Engineering, University of Guelph

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Warren Stiver University of Guelph

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

Student-Led Design, Build, Testing and Usage of In-course Experimental Laboratories


Laboratory components of engineering courses are traditionally designed and assembled by either course instructors or laboratory technicians. Student’s involvement is most often passive owing to a detailed recipe style set of instructions and frequently recipe style report preparation in which even the relevant axes of figures have been predefined. Mass Transfer Operations (ENGG*3470) is a course that was introduced into the Environmental Engineering curriculum at the University of Guelph in 1998. A lack of facilities initially meant the course started without an appropriate laboratory component. Over the past four years the course has evolved through student designed, built and tested experiments as an integral component of their coursework. Currently, the students are responsible for choosing a mass transfer topic, selecting compounds involved in the mass transfer process, identifying most appropriate analytical techniques, designing, building and trouble-shooting the required apparatus, performing a minimum of two experiments and synthesizing the data in form of a laboratory report. Additionally, the students prepare a laboratory manual that is then used by other students to conduct the particular experiments. Our experience over the past five years indicates that such an approach is not only manageable but also provides the students a unique opportunity to sharpen their design, research as well as communication skills while learning the fundamentals of mass transfer operations.

This paper describes the evolution of this approach within the third-year mass transfer course and provides an assessment of its effectiveness on student’s learning.


It is now generally agreed that involving the students in the process of learning and knowledge construction promotes more in-depth understanding, better retention of concepts, increased interest on the subject matter among the students, and stronger problem solving skills. Several approaches have been practiced by educators to ensure meaningful participation of students in learning including problem-based learning1, “learning by doing”2, and “project-oriented education”3 to name a few. All these approaches emphasize a “learner-centered approach” and a move from a “content-based” to a more “context-based” education4.

In addition to sharpening student’s laboratory skills, most undergraduate lab-based courses are used to promote some type of hands-on learning. In conventional laboratory course students are provided with detailed instructions on how to perform the work and, in many cases, how to analyze the data. The experimental setup is typically fully laid out by laboratory technologists or graduate teaching assistants and analytical equipment is checked, troubleshoot and calibrated with little or no input from the undergraduate students. In most cases such an approach to undergraduate laboratory experiments is driven by the need to move a large number of students through a lab with limited resources and within a prescribed time period.

There are several limitations with the conventional approaches to laboratory exercises in undergraduate courses. Conventional in-course laboratories do not encourage student enquiry

Farahbakhsh, K., & Stiver, W. (2007, June), Student Led Design, Build, Testing And Usage Of In Course Experimental Laboratories Paper presented at 2007 Annual Conference & Exposition, Honolulu, Hawaii. 10.18260/1-2--2045

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