Asee peer logo

Use Of Computer Simulation To Enhance Learning In A Mechanical Engineering Measurements Laboratory

Download Paper |


2002 Annual Conference


Montreal, Canada

Publication Date

June 16, 2002

Start Date

June 16, 2002

End Date

June 19, 2002



Conference Session

Unique Lab Experiments

Page Count


Page Numbers

7.1231.1 - 7.1231.13



Permanent URL

Download Count


Request a correction

Paper Authors

author page

Robert Ryan

Download Paper |

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

Main Menu Session 1702

Use of Computer Simulation to Enhance Learning in a Mechanical Engineering Measurements Laboratory

Dr. Robert G. Ryan California State University, Northridge


Fundamental concepts related to data sampling and uncertainty analysis can be introduced through standard textbook problems, but it is much easier to stimulate student interest if the analysis involves real data. However, illustration of basic concepts can be compromised if the data exhibit anomalies due to errors in technique or equipment problems. The use of computer- generated values for analysis offers a balanced approach that produces predictable values but maintains a level of interaction between the student and the “experiment”. Three experiments using computer-generated data are described, and sample results are presented. The software used is Microsoft Excel (with procedures written in Visual Basic for Applications). This approach has been effective in a junior-level measurements laboratory for mechanical engineering students, and can also be adapted for distance learning applications.

I. Introduction

One of the purposes of laboratory courses is to teach students how to properly analyze data obtained from engineering experiments. Important concepts include the normal, or Gaussian probability distribution, confidence intervals, error propagation, and the use of Discrete Fourier Transforms for frequency analysis. Analysis techniques related to these concepts involve a great deal of “number crunching”, and thus studying these topics using textbook problems solved on a calculator reinforces the notion that data analysis is inherently tedious and boring.

One might conclude that it is always preferable to analyze actual laboratory results for learning data analysis techniques, since the students will be motivated by performing the experiment themselves. However, the unpredictability of experimental data can often introduce complications that may compromise the desire of the instructor to demonstrate a particular principle or technique. Also, the students are confronted with several problems at once, since they have to properly analyze and then interpret the data by comparing results to an appropriate physical model. Exposing the students to more complex experiments is clearly a key goal of laboratory courses, but may not be the best avenue for introducing data analysis techniques.

The use of computer-generated data is a compromise between the “textbook problem” and standard “lab experiment” approaches for teaching data analysis techniques. A degree of spontaneity and interaction between student and “experiment” is maintained, but the behavior illustrated by the data can be carefully controlled. The results of these experiments can be

Proceedings of the 2002 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition Copyright Ó 2002, American Society for Engineering Education

Main Menu

Ryan, R. (2002, June), Use Of Computer Simulation To Enhance Learning In A Mechanical Engineering Measurements Laboratory Paper presented at 2002 Annual Conference, Montreal, Canada. 10.18260/1-2--10472

ASEE holds the copyright on this document. It may be read by the public free of charge. Authors may archive their work on personal websites or in institutional repositories with the following citation: © 2002 American Society for Engineering Education. Other scholars may excerpt or quote from these materials with the same citation. When excerpting or quoting from Conference Proceedings, authors should, in addition to noting the ASEE copyright, list all the original authors and their institutions and name the host city of the conference. - Last updated April 1, 2015