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Teaching Labs: The Challenges And Practical Considerations For New Faculty

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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

Tricks of the Trade in Research

Tagged Division

New Engineering Educators

Page Count


Page Numbers

11.1213.1 - 11.1213.8



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Paper Authors


Laura Genik Wayne State University

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Laura J. Genik is currently part-time faculty in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan. She teaches in the area of thermal engineering, including thermodynamics and heat transfer. Dr. Genik has research interests in transport phenomena in porous media, inverse problems and parameter estimation in heat transfer processes, and computer design of thermal systems. She received her B.S. in 1991, her M.S. in 1994, and her Ph.D. in 1998, all in mechanical engineering from Michigan State University.

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Craig Somerton Michigan State University

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Craig W. Somerton is an Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering and Associate Chair of Mechanical Engineering at Michigan State University. He teaches in the area of thermal engineering including thermodynamics, heat transfer, and thermal design. Dr. Somerton has research interests in computer design of thermal systems, transport phenomena in porous media, and application of continuous quality improvement principles to engineering education. He received his B.S. in 1976, his M.S. in 1979, and his Ph.D. in 1982, all in engineering from UCLA.

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

Teaching Labs: The Challenges and Practical Considerations for New Faculty Introduction

It is very common for untenured engineering faculty to be assigned the responsibility for teaching and managing a teaching laboratory in their program. At undergraduate institutions this is due to the relatively low numbers of faculty in departments, the faculty replacement process, and the desire for the program to update their laboratories. Similar reasons exist at graduate/research intuitions, but, in addition, we might add the unwillingness of senior faculty to carry out this task as a reason for the assignment of a new faculty member to this task. The purpose of this paper is to provide some guidance to new engineering educators who find themselves with this laboratory assignment. For the purposes of this paper, the term teaching laboratory applies to laboratories in which the students conduct physical experiments and not computer or virtual experiments. The two authors provide two different perspectives, one based upon the experiences at an undergraduate teaching institution and the second from experiences at a graduate/research institution. However, both of their experiences are within the thermal/fluids discipline of mechanical engineering. Some of the issues raised in this paper cut across the various engineering disciplines, but some may be more applicable to mechanical engineering or the thermal/fluids aspects of chemical or civil engineering than to other fields.

There are several good resources available to guide in the teaching of labs. The authors especially like the booklet put out by the Teaching for Learning Center of Flinders University, Australia1. It addresses goals, organization, and strategies for teaching labs and also provides details on occupational health and safety issues for teaching labs. A condensed guide for lab instruction can be found at the Center for Teaching, Vanderbilt University web site2. There are also some guides available for teaching assistants who are teaching labs. Two very good ones are [3] and [4].

The paper begins by considering the upkeep and maintenance of the laboratory facility. Next the staffing issues are addressed. The handling of reports and laboratory grading is then considered. This is followed by a discussion on the development of experiments. The paper concludes with a guide on handling laboratory disasters.

Laboratory Maintenance and Upkeep

The two principal resources required to maintain a laboratory facility are money and technician time. Typically, these are in short supply. Some institutions impose a laboratory fee to generate funds for laboratory maintenance. These monies may also be used to partially fund the salary of a technician. For institutions that do not impose such a fee, lab funds and technician salary will come from either general funds, endowments, or directed gifts. Regardless of the source of funds, they are often not readily available to the lab instructor, but controlled by the department head or chairperson. Hence, it is essential that the lab instructor negotiates with the department chair for these resources. The timing of these negotiations is critical for success. The best time to conduct these negotiations would be prior to accepting the assignment. That is, we strongly encourage the new faculty member to get a commitment of financial and technician resources for

Genik, L., & Somerton, C. (2006, June), Teaching Labs: The Challenges And Practical Considerations For New Faculty Paper presented at 2006 Annual Conference & Exposition, Chicago, Illinois. 10.18260/1-2--127

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