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The Role of the Laboratory in

Undergraduate Engineering Education

LYLE D. FEISEL experience. While there seems to be general agreement that labora-
Thomas J. Watson School of Engineering and Applied Science tories are necessary, little has been said about what they are expect-
State University of New York at Binghamton ed to accomplish. In most papers about laboratories, no course ob-
jectives or outcomes are listed, even though it is not unusual for the
ALBERT J. ROSA author to state in the conclusion that the objectives of the course
Department of Electrical Engineering were met. An accepted set of fundamental objectives for laborato-
University of Denver ries, as set out in this paper, would help engineering educators focus
their efforts and evaluate the effectiveness of laboratory experiences.
It is useful to distinguish among three basic types of engineering
ABSTRACT laboratories: development, research, and educational. While they
have many characteristics in common, there are some fundamental
The function of the engineering profession is to manipulate differences. These differences must be understood if there is to be
materials, energy, and information, thereby creating benefit for agreement on the educational objectives that the instructional labo-
humankind. To do this successfully, engineers must have a ratory is expected to meet.
knowledge of nature that goes beyond mere theory—knowledge Practicing engineers go to the development laboratory for two
that is traditionally gained in educational laboratories. Over the reasons. First, they often need experimental data to guide them in
years, however, the nature of these laboratories has changed. This designing and developing a product. The development laboratory is
paper describes the history of some of these changes and explores used to answer specific questions about nature that must be an-
in some depth a few of the major factors influencing laboratories swered before a design and development process can continue.
today. In particular, the paper considers the lack of coherent The second reason is to determine if a design performs as in-
learning objectives for laboratories and how this lack has limited tended. Measurements of performance are compared to specifica-
the effectiveness of laboratories and hampered meaningful tions, and these comparisons either demonstrate compliance or
research in the area. A list of fundamental objectives is presented indicate where, if not how, changes need to be made.
along with suggestions for possible future research. While a development laboratory is intended to answer specific
questions of immediate importance, research laboratories are used
Keywords: laboratories, learning objectives, history of laboratories to seek broader knowledge that can be generalized and system-
atized, often without any specific use in mind. The output of a re-
search laboratory is generally an addition to the overall knowledge
I. INTRODUCTION that we have of the world, be it natural or human made.
When students, especially undergraduates, go to the laboratory,
Engineering is a practicing profession, a profession devoted to however, it is not generally to extract some data necessary for a de-
harnessing and modifying the three fundamental resources that hu- sign, to evaluate a new device, or to discover a new addition to our
mankind has available for the creation of all technology: energy, knowledge of the world. Each of these functions involves deter-
materials, and information. The overall goal of engineering educa- mining something that no one else knows or at least that is not
tion is to prepare students to practice engineering and, in particular, generally available. Students, on the other hand, go to an instruc-
to deal with the forces and materials of nature. Thus, from the earli- tional laboratory to learn something that practicing engineers are
est days of engineering education, instructional laboratories have assumed to already know. That “something” needs to be better de-
been an essential part of undergraduate and, in some cases, graduate fined through carefully designed learning objectives if the consid-
programs. Indeed, prior to the emphasis on engineering science, it erable effort devoted to laboratories is to produce a concomitant
could be said that most engineering instruction took place in the benefit.
laboratory. Laboratory instruction has been complicated by the introduc-
The emphasis on laboratories has varied over the years. While tion of two phenomena in the past two decades: the digital comput-
much attention has been paid to curriculum and teaching methods, er and systems of distance learning, particularly over the Internet.
relatively little has been written about laboratory instruction. As an The digital computer has opened new possibilities in the laborato-
example, in surveys of the articles published in the Journal of Engi- ry, including simulation, automated data acquisition, remote con-
neering Education from 1993 to 1997, it was found that only 6.5 trol of instruments, and rapid data analysis and presentation. The
percent of the papers used laboratory as a keyword. From 1998 to reality of offering undergraduate engineering education via distance
2002, the fraction was even lower at 5.2 percent [1]. learning has caused educators to consider and discuss just what the
One reason for the limited research on instructional laboratories fundamental objectives of instructional laboratories are. These dis-
may be a lack of consensus on the basic objectives of the laboratory cussions have led to new understandings of laboratories and have

January 2005 Journal of Engineering Education 121

entists rather than engineers. Since many of tute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE) [6]. chemistry. Kennedy’s determination to place a gineers how to design and build everything from turbines to rail. many en. engineering was taught in an apprenticeship program targets for measurement. curricula. uating engineers who were steeped in theory but poor in practice. some schools elected to minimize labo- founded in 1852. celled. who may choose to apply over the next quarter century” [9]. other engineering disciplines joined the effort and in in the past few years. included nine standards and filled about a half page. and build their own creations— oratories were so central to an engineering degree that no one could learning by doing. institutional control and attitudes. Applying science to everyday life requires both theory and the first three required strengthening work in basic sciences. in the application of science to the common purposes the Grinter Report after its chairman. published in 1933. (ECPD). a new laboratory specifically education declined significantly. Driven by President John F. Worchester Poly. During the middle of the nineteenth century. analyze. The first engineering school in the United States. but drafting and laboratory and fieldwork remained and practice evolved. however.Y. Engineering programs required science and onset of formal engineering education. continued to require individuals who possessed more practical skills. electri- INSTRUCTIONAL LABORATORIES cal. with the Moon goal reached and the tures were being built on the campuses of these institutions to house Vietnam War raging. Engineering education. the U. was based in part on the French curric. be of secondary importance. developed programs in engineering technology. the latter can only be learned and practiced in the physical mined that the engineers being produced were too practically ori- laboratory. proved to be a watershed for of life [5]. Mili. these technologists filled positions formerly held by engineers. they taining quality. there was a rapid growth roads and canals to telegraph lines and chemical plants. even today. Seeing the impact of Laboratory instruction has not received a great deal of attention these efforts. in 1925. It was also coupled with practice. Although students. man on the Moon by the end of the 1960s. causing confusion between engineering and 122 Journal of Engineering Education January 2005 . mechanical. theoretical subjects. While the former lends itself to classroom ing mathematics. on laboratory instruction and taught a new generation of young en. The committee deter- learning. ECPD. Fueled by changed since 1933. When the American Society of Civil Engineers was with reduced enrollments. Union Col. At MIT. ratory courses. issued a list of the education system for the next generation of engineers. industry The accreditation process has had an impact on engineering lab.” engineering education. new physical struc. During these early years the focus was clearly integral parts of the curriculum through the end of the Second on practice. Many engineering schools began grad- ries and fieldwork were clearly a major part of the engineering edu. whose standards had gone essentially un- lege (1845). including Cornell (1830). The ASEE chartered a committee to ular model of mathematical rigor. supersonic transport and more advanced space missions were can- technic Institute dedicated Stratton Hall in 1894 to house the ex. ented and were not sufficiently trained to seek solutions by referring gineering schools sprung up. Yale (1852). However. includ- hands-on practicum.created new challenges for engineering educators as they design the chemical engineering departments and. one of its early technical divisions was the Survey. and mining engineering. Major engineering projects like the for mechanical engineering was built in 1874. ing degree. Engineering To provide these practically trained individuals. occurs as even consider teaching an engineering course without an accompa- much in the laboratory as through lecture [3]. One assumes that the reason for this omission was that lab- engineers had to design. from the nying laboratory [8]. The original ECPD accreditation criteria. It is a hands-on profession measures. existed “for needs of and provide the leadership for the engineering profession the purpose of instructing persons. a tension between theory mathematics. several factors currently con. metallurgical. to first principles. tion Board for Engineering and Technology) [7]. By the 1970s. oratories. during that decade in the number of students seeking an engineer- To support the integral laboratory curricula. the practical aspects of engineering generally taught in the labora- these institutions developed curricula that placed heavy emphasis tory began to give way to the more academic. World War. as nology and to educate men who will be competent to serve the the founder of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute stated. and physics. MIT (1865).S. Concerned about main. teaching staff. It was devel- II. To save dollars laboratories. first fourteen schools to gain accreditation. These early appear. and physical facilities were all ing schools. although the effect has often been indirect. This committee’s report. and many others. HISTORICAL ROLE OF ENGINEERING oped to offer accreditation to six disciplines: chemical. in 1802 to produce and as a result of the war were developed by individuals educated as sci- train military engineers [4]. Consequently. the word “laboratories” curiously did not modeled in part after the British apprenticeship system. the AIChE established a system for evaluating often received that title. “…recommend patterns that engineering education should take in striking a balance of sorts between theory and practice order to keep pace with the rapid developments in science and tech- Civilian schools soon followed and developed curricula that. funding for technology and for engineering the engineering laboratories. the forerunner of today’s ABET (formerly the Accredita- tribute to a reawakening of interest in the subject. While engineering programs became more theoretical. prior to the creation of engineer. cation experience. where doing is key. called themselves. Some schools reduced the number of engineering programs panding mechanical engineering department and its engineering or shut down their engineering schools completely. quickly adopted these new requirements and the Industrial Revolution and the Morrill Land Grant Act of 1862. Among the ten recommended action items. Laborato. After World War II many of the great inventions that occurred tary Academy. N. founded at West Point. many institutions accreditation in the United States started with the American Insti. The criteria evaluated each program using both qualitative and quantitative Engineering is a practical discipline. As will be noted later. citing the Grinter Report’s conclusion that knowing ing Division. Surveying became one the many undergraduate theory was paramount and that engineering practicum appeared to course areas that provided a practical work environment. and as has 1932 formed the Engineers’ Council for Professional Development been discussed in other writings [2]. graduates. civil.

Laboratory plans that included instrumenta. For engineering. engineers globally uncompetitive—motivated ABET to un. has shifted away from recognizing contributions to under. tained separate accreditation tracks for programs in engineering and The rapid evolution of the personal computer and its integration those in technology. It is surprising. tion to objectives. largely silent on the learning objectives associated with engineer- ria. starting with the regional accredi- ity laboratory experience. enterprise. Some professors who develop labo- struction. Universities continue to address this issue. time-intensive activities as developing and evolving instructional crediting two. Still others maintain that deter- situation rather than a suggestion that laboratories are of no mining learning objectives should be left to the students—a posi- consequence. the ASEE “Green Book” is. in the late 1990s ABET changed its accredi. tion that has some merit in more advanced courses. students in learning a concept or accomplishing a desired task or ence for undergraduate engineers: (1) the increasing complexity— design. tives for all types of accreditation. or the success of their compounded the challenge of providing a quality laboratory experi.and four-year technology programs. ABET became the organization reward system will be altered to recognize curricular achievements. Beginning dertake a far-reaching study on how better to accredit engineering with Bloom [17]. In addition to the Grinter report. however. This truism. perhaps. various references to experiment. [26–28]. lenge presented. that the literature is comes that could be periodically assessed [16].” One rea. While the new crite. precision and accuracy. the faculty reward system. number of workshops on the subject have been held. three developments have apparatus. engineering societies underwent a major reorga. to identify course goals than they are to specify student learning ob- equate to meet the needs of a modern instructional laboratory. gram that includes a quality laboratory experience requires the effort nization. In recent years. 1986 [12]. and simulations. ing instructional laboratories. it became into the laboratory have helped to offset some of the costs of requir- clear that engineers were not adequately prepared in laboratory ing expensive equipment and have improved the laboratory experi- techniques. come to the university with experience as “shade tree mechanics” or While this has helped to create an outstanding academic research amateur radio operators. Curiously. They also require more broadly cuses on those elements [18–20]. Others cannot be bothered. responsible for engineering and technology accreditation and main. the implementation of has worked for it.S. however. several engineering education counting” approach to accreditation—that many believed rendered scholars have spoken to the issue of learning objectives and a U. teachers do not write such objectives. don’t know sonably can assume that this reflects a satisfaction with the current how. ence through computer use in data acquisition. including some associated with the laboratory. a process they have developed. when ap- ratories in engineering education and made recommendations that plied to education. The reports of 1967 [11]. If you don’t know where you want to go. placing the burden on each institution to develop tives as well as to understand the several levels of intellectual chal- goals and objectives for each of its programs and to develop out. ABET Engineering Criteria 2000 has resulted in increased atten- As technology has advanced. to help distinguish the professions. OBJECTIVES AND ASSESSMENT (OR NOT) ments. how many though there is a section on “Reshaping the Curriculum. do not explicitly require laboratory in. Though it is clear that a quality undergraduate pro- Around 1980. laboratories. suring ever more complex parameters to ever increasing levels of Since the emphasis of these criteria is on objectives and assessment. ratories and publish their results are fairly precise in stating their and institutional support make it clear that once again laboratories objectives. been developed that help to explain the concept of learning objec- tation criteria. sign assistance. various taxonomies of learning objectives have programs. suggests that clear learning objectives are essen- they be strengthened [14]. systems have developed for mea. it has drawn the attention of faculty away from such lematic and ECPD. dissatisfaction with ABET’s perceived “bean In the past two or three decades. to take and you won’t know if you have arrived. in the opinion of study of engineering or to follow a particular course of study many. New criteria were created that required adequate labo. and ECPD became the Accreditation Board for Engi. it has become apparent that fewer students graduate education and toward rewarding research productivity. The role of computers in the tion replacement and refurbishment were now required for every engineering laboratory is covered in more detail in sections IV and program. jectives. you won’t know which road dation conference held in 1983 attested to the importance of labo. so laboratories are often used to give January 2005 Journal of Engineering Education 123 . and 1987 [13] reaffirmed the importance of laboratories. Others simply assume the objectives will be taken for are a significant part of engineering education. III. and dedication of some of our best faculty. the American Society for En- gineering Education has produced other reports on engineering ed- ucation and made recommendations for changes and improve. educated technicians who are difficult to hire and who command For laboratory courses. V below. As so many engineering programs have developed an increasing Another goal is to provide motivation either to continue in the interest in research. use of modern tools. while (3) the integration of the computer tation commissions. engineering faculty are much more likely higher salaries. the “real world” into an otherwise theoretical education [21–25]. An Engineering Foun. de- ratory practice [10]. it is less obvious how the neering and Technology (ABET). A common goal is to relate theory and practice or to bring cially those requiring significant amounts of hands-on involvement. Engineering department budgets are not always ad. espe. introduced as EC2000. With clearly defined boundaries. granted and that their contribution is to report on the laboratory During the past two or three decades. As a result. These systems come at an increased cost for work directed toward helping programs meet the criteria often fo- both acquisition and maintenance. It is interesting. and hence increasing cost—of laboratory equipment and (2) the There has been a move nationally to require educational objec- changing motivation of faculty members has worked against a qual. data reduction.engineering technology. In the early 1990s. Some. tial in designing an efficient learning system and also in applying an sued in 1994 [15] does not appear to mention laboratories even effective system of assessment. began ac. This overlap of definition became prob.

downloading. PCs course goals. It can be used to control experiments. from the classroom to the laboratory [33]. University’s main computer and print out the resulting file. with a solid-state memory similar to that of a computer. Digital their outcomes are critical for evaluating the success and evolution simulators were being introduced to “expand the undergraduate digi- of a laboratory program. particularly in the laboratory. data collection student work” [37]. and so forth. An example of how the PC made student As another example of assessment. ment collects data. hex key at a time. simulations and data acquisition. student retention is something that can be were used to map electrostatic fields or for transmission line analysis. it is felt that clear the ET3400 [Microprocessor Trainer]. the ENIAC. and present results. was becoming integrated into undergraduate education their achievement is not often assessed. extremely accurate electronic slide rule” Applets [38. This combination of software and hard- on both theoretical courses and engineering instructional laborato. and to share infor- mation via the Internet. the HPIB IEEE 488 standard protocol instrument drivers can be veloping laboratories that made more effective use of the computer used to control instruments remotely—meaning that students can in collecting and analyzing experimental data. there was an error in the code. circuit simulation in power level of automation might remove students somewhat from the 124 Journal of Engineering Education January 2005 . Computer tech. THE COMPUTER IN THE LABORATORY been removed from running the microprocessor experi- ments. This has given nology grew rapidly during the fifties and sixties with computers in. on Computation and Computers in Electrical Engineering Education. These workstations usually had a suite of develop their own data-acquisition systems. since they are funda. acquire data. No engineer today could imagine doing his The 1980s and 1990s saw the development of many “smart” in- or her job without one. he went back to the computer ment process as well as to the ongoing discussion about the appro. Early experiments saw efforts breakthrough in computation occurred. analysis. The One of the more comprehensive systems is LabVIEW. Yet. of the priate role of laboratories in engineering education. it used to take to measure and record one data point. Course goals or objectives are often stated in general terms and clearly. often at a single session. source code. ratories. debugging. the instru- The first electronic digital computer. there has been a corresponding increase in the quality of neer’s toolbox.” tool for learning stochastic processes. Hewlett-Packard an. Yet. SPICE to learn about chaotic circuits. By the mid-1980s. For example. If learning objectives would contribute significantly to the develop. 39]. the efficacy of laboratory simula. More signif- when IBM introduced its PC. and growing in number. J. sis and presentation in a variety of formats and has been used in in- The real breakthrough in computational power occurred in 1981 troductory as well as more advanced laboratory courses. Still. using computers routinely is a fairly re. do so in far greater depth. Though this has not prevented the development of many He then took this to the lab and punched the program into innovative and effective laboratory activities. The making difficult visualizations possible and relatively easy through in- other often-used measure of success is a student satisfaction survey. The computer. “Before we introduced the personal computers and While course goals are often specified. among not only simulate virtual outcomes of experiments. Clearly. teractive software [35. but also control other universities. Connected to a system under test. few engineers actually used these behemoths for day-to-day During this period. became oper. Papers reported greatly over the last few years. Bucknell. They replaced the traditional slide rule and gave students the set of simulated instruments. students the ability to analyze much more complex systems and to creasing in capability. assembly. An integral part of every engi. 41]. the IEEE Education Society produced a special issue strain and evaluating a temperature controller [42]. the literature shows a emulators. and presents it graphically in the time ational in 1946 at the University of Pennsylvania. Distler: tions used as a prelab activity can be assessed by evaluating the perfor- mance of students when they do the physical laboratory exercise [31]. struments that essentially married a measuring device with a special cent event. being developed around the Internet using Web browsers and Java nounced the HP-35 as “a fast. a product HP-35 and the other models that soon followed had a major impact of National Instruments. the student had to assemble his program on the general dearth of well-written student learning objectives for labo. measured and is sometimes used as a surrogate for motivation. There has been a large increase in productivity and Today. running the program and the final report preparation is done at the same station. There are a few examples of successful assessment of laboratory Building on several earlier efforts in finite element modeling. In 1972 a practical controlling experiments remotely. increased the role of the personal computer in the real instruments while they are located elsewhere [40. 36]. the computer has changed the instructional laboratory which represented the state of the art at the time. successful experiments using PSPICE to model hysteresis effects. analyzes it. learning more efficient is described in a short article by R. engineering schools were de. mental to the development of an engineer. and analyze. shrinking in size. tal design education without increasing the student’s work load” [34]. Much of the frustration has IV. It also provides software for data analy- capability of analyzing data with far greater speed and accuracy. schools began investigating the possibility of design. learning objectives and By 1986 computers were being exploited in many ways. ment computer-based systems for measuring temperature and In 1993. correlate. igniting a fast growth of the personal icantly LabVIEW or Hewlett-Packard’s HPVEE software using computer market. much less to support laboratory work. and sophomore level uses interdisciplinary teams to design and imple- testing of engineering systems [32]. purpose computer. ware turns a personal computer into a data-acquisition device and a ries. and reduction. Now the creation. they are used to do computations. the computer as a “feel for engineering [30]. While this computer simulation in circuit analysis.students the “look and feel” of physical systems [29] or to develop a electronics. laboratory by developing an integrated engineering workstation to Laboratory courses have also been developed to teach students to support several courses. computers are ubiquitous. terminal to correct his source code. One such course at the electronic instruments and a PC to use in the design.

by inserting budget These software programs play an important role in engineering and time constraints into the problem specifications [50] or by in- education. It was found that the There will undoubtedly be many further developments in this area. With continu- sign better aircraft. however. laminar flow in pipes. a local community col- physical phenomena we study in engineering laboratories. Efforts to make cessing facilities. lege) or spend a period of time on the engineering campus in a ural that simulators have been used as an adjunct to or even as a sub. perience with normal flight—as well as with problems they might In some sense.g. hands-on experiments. Judged on the basis of time needed to complete those exercises. at the University of will certainly be approached more closely in the future. campus to attend regular laboratory classes [52]. thereby reducing the number of labo. such as electromagnetic do not include a laboratory component. saving millions of dollars cal measurements by undergraduate students [47–49]. that are too large. the training for all kinds of activities. Today. the first distance education programs were grad- a key factor in their use. the two groups performed about the same although The use of technology to simulate physical phenomena probably the times of the students who used the simulations exhibited found its first serious use in the “Blue Box” developed by Edwin a significantly higher standard deviation. telephone. radio. however. VI. simulation can provide. The students who did the simulations were also required to perform two physical laboratory exercises after they had done the simula- V. Since simu. Students purchased kits at a cost dents some idea of what they will encounter in an actual ex. however. former group scored higher on a written exam. corporating statistical fluctuations into the model to enhance real- Two significant software developments used to simulate engi. have limitations. The exam- California. Larry Nagel. Since simu- lation is only as good as the model used. uate programs intended primarily. simulation has been used to provide illustrations of dents who were employed full time. considered comparable to what they would spend traveling to the periment [45]. These programs did. As undergraduate distance electron flow in semiconductors or beam loading [44]. Distance education programs adopted each new technology It also can result in significant financial savings by reducing (mail. from piloting sophisticated aircraft models were too unrealistic. Since most graduate programs phenomena that are not easily visualized. SIMULATION VERSUS REAL EXPERIMENTATION tions. Then ratory stations required. Berkley to develop a circuit simulation program for their ple of flight simulation systems capable of giving pilots valuable ex- work on optimization. SPICE and FEM have become virtual laborato. concentrated laboratory course [51]. that goal Rohrer and his student. or too dangerous for physi- ators before and during World War II. grams gave remote students laboratory kits they could use at home ● Simulations can be used as a pre-lab experience to give stu. ism. and more than a few lives. television. learning programs started to develop. simulation software programs are available laboratory exercises based on simulations more realistic include a that accurately emulate many technical and physical processes. Real devices and materials are intricate and difficult to model accurately. in an almost instantaneous fashion changed the practice of distance cal laboratory exercises and then be assessed by comparing education as well as the expectations of both students and teachers. or simulated results really did not ade- or ships to operating nuclear power plants or complex chemical pro. quately represent real-world systems and behavior. None of the technologies. heat transfer through materials. Today. for example. encounter—should encourage engineering educators to continue to ries. HANDS-OFF LABORATORIES: rate. was conventional in all except the schedule of activity. Under- standing the limitations of simulations compared to real processes is In engineering. January 2005 Journal of Engineering Education 125 . SPICE was an outgrowth of an effort by Ron ing increases in computing power and efficiency. Some of the simulations are based on simplified models that DISTANCE EDUCATION fail when analyzing complex circuits or structures [43]. Indeed. sometimes surprisingly—random can alleviate some of the concerns ucation: finite element modeling (FEM) and simulation program that simulations do not represent the real world. simulators are used to deliver Early criticisms of simulations were that they were too rigid. the question of how to de- fields. building a simulation that is appropriately—and neering processes have had a revolutionary effect on engineering ed. with IC emphasis (SPICE). came the Internet. iarizing students with the equipment before actually using it. Other pro- There are numerous uses of simulation in the laboratory. problem of how to provide laboratory experience at a distance. for part-time stu- In education. tape recording. Pilots who experience the then submit it to SPICE or FEM to determine their design’s char. it is nat. it is essential that it be accu. The usual approach was to have students either perform labo- able to develop reasonably accurate mathematical models of the ratory exercises at another institution (e. and liver laboratory experiences did not arise. Students can design a circuit or a mechanical structure and develop better laboratory simulations. This can improve laboratory safety by famil. whose ability to interconnect nodes of technology ● Simulations can be used as stand-alone substitutes for physi. stress of a simulator training exercise can attest to the realism that acteristics “experimentally” through the use of digital simulation. The “Link ● Simulations are useful for experimental studies of systems Trainer” flight simulator was used to train thousands of military avi. too expensive. the laboratory stitute for actual laboratory experiments.direct process of the laboratory experience. this problem demanded solu- lators essentially execute mathematical equations and since we are tion. completely replace physical. FEM software was an outgrowth of a It is generally agreed that computer simulations today cannot structural analysis tool developed in the 1940s to help engineers de. who used traditional laboratories [46].. to perform the course experiments. Link in the 1928. solved the difficult laboratory equipment. number of innovations and efforts. it can be argued that it the performance of students who used simulation and those has also extended them into areas heretofore impossible to explore. In either case. now an ASME National Landmark. computer) as it the time a student or team needs on real—and expensive— came along. if not solely.

their solution checks “experimentally” to using a total simulation to The colloquy convened in San Diego. at best. as long as he or she meets the learn- description of the “new” world of distance education. was given a certain amount of nourishment. In addition who have. have used teams in Inter. or doing periodic self-evaluations have been effective to assemble a group of experienced engineering educators to deter- in reducing this isolation [61]. the dis. Many systems that ingly inefficient. The approach most often employed is to use the Internet to pro. make a prediction) and then use a simulator to see if laboratories?” independent of the method of delivery. the process will be exceed- ther enhance students’ sense of presence [54. mine objectives for evaluating the efficacy of distance-delivered en- While some educators believe that the best use of the Internet is gineering laboratory programs. California on January teach students the use of electronic or mechanical instruments [62].. Something useful might result but. This apparent limitation in defin- [60]. VII. The Foundation agreed to fund a colloquy noted above. Second. it is apparent that the delivery of laboratory education today “During the Panel’s lifetime of less than two years. Officials of ABET recognized that. derstood—if not completely explicit—criteria exist for evaluating ceived isolation of the students. 55]. Their system uses a standard browser. remains a significant challenge to distance-delivered undergraduate tance learning enterprise has changed dramatically. synchronous communication that duplicated. while others have developed their own sys. using the Internet or other distance- lenge. The panel’s report [53] provides the following apt care what the student perceives. There are at least two problems with this state of affairs. there is now a wish to enhance the laboratory experi. Some fifty distinguished engineering educators. tives is like designing a product without a clear set of design speci- Most systems of this type are synchronous. This perceived isolation could also cause students to disengage To help resolve this problem. the cognitive component of engineering education. other end is a software package or a set of D/A and A/D converters vened a panel to study the development of distance education in the controlling the instruments measuring a real system. 2002. This can range from having the students solve a “What are the fundamental objectives of engineering instructional problem (i. the provost of the State University of New York con. Some faculty members have As mentioned earlier. In early engineering education. Either the profession’s require- the campus. giving students a sense of fications. grees. 6–8. system that had always worked would continue to work as long as it ciencies by better utilizing space and making a single piece of labo. accreditation. be what was really desired and. thereby eliminating the ing a clear purpose for the role of laboratories in a program handi- need for additional software on the student’s computer and reducing caps the ability of an institution to determine if its curricular the time required by the student to learn how to operate the system. there has not been general agreement on for students ‘at any time. they concluded that the question was not ry. to ABET when distance education programs began inquiring about tems [59. the colloquy program. THE FUNDAMENTAL OBJECTIVES OF most realize that synchronous delivery is part of a much larger LABORATORIES picture and that the technology and materials developed for re- mote delivery have a far greater potential to provide education As history has shown. 60]. Having students do their laboratory work in teams.” the motivation for cators have not explicitly defined objectives at all and many of those developing distance laboratories expanded significantly. while well-un- One concern often expressed about distance learning is the per. a face-to-face classroom experience. Foundation. innovation will be difficult because there employ video operate in quasi real time. “What are the objectives of distance-delivered laboratories?” It was oratory experience. as larly in higher education.’ ” the objectives of engineering instructional laboratories nor any real efforts to define a comprehensive set until now. Indeed. objectives for a degree are being fully met. A second state and to identify areas where policy changes or clarification question is perhaps the most thought provoking: Do we need to might be needed. attended. computer terminal. are no targets to inspire change and no standards by which the ity for students to upload experiment parameters and then receive a changes may be judged. repre- Since student access to an experimental apparatus is through a senting a range of institutions and disciplines. Some use online video to fur. a charitable foundation that has given considerable mote laboratory instruction than in regular class work delivered over support to the development of distance-learning systems. ing objectives associated with the laboratory? Whatever solution is used. as nearly as pos- sible. Writing such software is a major undertaking so the use of learning technologies. 1996. particu- the Internet. the primary question is whether a simulation The colloquy converged on a list of thirteen objectives. the lack of a clear understanding of the used MS NetMeeting [57] or MATLAB/Simulink [58] to provide objectives of instructional laboratories became clear—and vexing— access to laboratories. This last problem has become clear with video clip of the apparatus as it operates using those parameters [56]. First. in any place. ratory equipment available to more students.e. most people thought of distance learning as real-time. although that is less likely to occur in re. many edu- With this new understanding of “distance. including laboratories. the advent of programs offering undergraduate engineering de- The operating software for distance laboratories can be a chal. In 1996. each con- can be made so realistic that the student does not know whether the sisting of a one-or two-word title to provide easy reference and a 126 Journal of Engineering Education January 2005 . at worst. designing a laboratory experience without clear instructional objec- vide students with remote access to physical laboratory apparatus. ments for specificity were not very strict or there was a faith that a ence of on-campus students. others feel that simulation by itself can provide a meaningful lab. commercial software can be efficient. it may not actual involvement in the experiment. As the steering committee designed to give students access to physical equipment in a physical laborato. There is also the potential to gain effi. Two years later. but others provide a capabil. ABET approached the Sloan from the learning process. Hoyer et al. do so in terms that make it difficult to assess whether to the desire to provide laboratories for students who never come to those objectives have been achieved. no such under- net laboratories to provide a collaborative experience for their students standing existed for laboratories.

the first five objectives dealing with cognition—In- strumentation. event and establishing or validating a relationship between mea- sured data and underlying physical principles. venues and discovered that. is still needed.brief explanatory statement to help clarify the meaning. roles (or goals) can provide a philosophical basis for laboratories. ABET officials were quick to point out that the objec- them responsibly. educational research in the future. and to form and support conclusions. and tasks. component. Data Analysis. due to faulty equipment. including better segregation by discipline. It was no surprise that many deal with knowledge in to specify the action that the student should be able to perform as a the cognitive domain. Design. and interpret the resulting data to characterize an engi. Use the human senses to gath.” of the affective domain. Using these objectives as a specifications from requirements. responsi- bilities. in. Demonstrate the ability to collect. sary to produce an effective engineer. rewarding to develop new laboratory experiments and experiences. code. future research should be aimed at developing a more thorough mulating conclusions about real-world problems. developing system developing instructional laboratories. While it is always interesting and Objective 13: Sensory Awareness. or system. the laboratory can be a place for the student neering material. It is interesting to note that the objectives cut across all domains tives were written using the generally accepted style of using a verb of knowledge. build. while there was general agreement that Objective 8: Psychomotor. er information and to make sound engineering judgments in for. The current objectives serve as an expansion of this list. parts. both orally and in writing. and Design— The Fundamental Objectives of were expected. implement these ones. Identify the strengths and limitations of It is also interesting to compare these recently described funda- theoretical models as predictors of real-world behaviors. including using specific methodologies. structure individual and joint accountability. and environmental While ABET was a prime mover in initiating and developing issues related to technological processes and activities. system. prod. two were specified that involve the psychomo- Engineering Instructional Laboratories tor domain: Psychomotor (the ability to actually manipulate All objectives start with the following: “By completing the labo. menter. This may mental objectives to the “roles” defined by Edward Ernst in a semi- include evaluating whether a theory adequately describes a physical nal paper more than twenty years ago [65]. “In my examination of the undergraduate engineering Objective 3: Experiment. modification. Identify health. ing their laboratory activity and to validate their effectiveness. Exposing students to all three of these domains is neces- physical quantities. conducted a limited survey of engineering educators to determine if Objective 7: Creativity. and interpret data. ure. and then re-engineer effective solutions.e. espe- at levels ranging from executive summaries to comprehensive tech. and deal with the colloquy. process. Experiment. there was general agreement that the objectives were applicable and dependent thought. laboratory developers and educational researchers can prototype. Demonstrate competence in selec. Devise an experimental approach. ing educators and is an area in which everyone seems to be tives resulted from the colloquy: comfortable. and ethics in the strumentation. and/or software tools to make measurements of laboratory. construction. tives have no standing as accreditation criteria. Second. Then.. Rather. safety. to learn new and developing subject matter. and integrate individual contributions into a final deliverable.” Make order of magnitude judgments and use measurement unit systems and conversions. So. creativity. or process using appropriate tools to satisfy identify the specific objectives that their work is expected to achieve requirements. Objective 2: Models. it is hoped Objective 10: Communication. Behave with highest eth- ical standards. courses help the student to gain insight and understanding of analyze. The objectives should nical reports. gation. the student should learn how to be an experi- procedures. and capability in real-world problem exhaustive. also be useful in the design of experimental laboratory programs and Objective 11: Teamwork. Third. Engineering instructional laboratories provide a fertile field for teracting with integrity. Apply appropriate sensors. The more specific objectives are needed to provide clear guidance in or materials. or assemble a part. the remaining objec- ratories in the engineering undergraduate curriculum. First. The objec. and testing and debugging a framework. cially as distance-learning programs emerge. communication. assign roles. the real world. Demonstrate appropriate levels of in. monitor progress. the organizers sign. Further investi- and resources. there was considerable spread in tion. SUGGESTIONS FOR FUTURE RESEARCH Objective 12: Ethics in the Laboratory. laboratory. or system. and operation of appropriate engineering tools opinion concerning whether they were all essential. behavior and attitudes: learn from fail- Objective 1: Instrumentation. teamwork. i. VIII. laboratory Objective 4: Data Analysis. I have identified three roles or objectives as major specify appropriate equipment and procedures. or de. and have confidence that those objectives have been accepted by a Objective 6: Learn from Failure. creativity. understanding of this critical component of the undergraduate January 2005 Journal of Engineering Education 127 . including reporting information objectively and in. including in demonstrating their worthiness of extramural funding. Work effectively in teams. uct. Finally. Objective 9: Safety. meeting client requirements. Identify unsuccessful outcomes significant portion of the engineering education community. the objectives were exhaustive. 64]. The following objec. These Objective 5: Design. safety. you will be tives have a cognitive part but also include a significant component able to…. They presented their findings in several high-visibility solving. apparatus) and Sensory Awareness. Communicate effectively about that these objectives will be useful to pedagogues to aid in evaluat- laboratory work with a specific audience. This has long been the province of engineer- result of the laboratory experience [63. In the two or more years following the colloquy. Models. meet deadlines. equipment.

future research: many traditional experiments are not practical to perform via distance learning. however. It will be necessary to have user from the workshop floor or a field truck. 128 Journal of Engineering Education January 2005 . tional laboratories: While the ABET/Sloan colloquy produced a The advent of the Internet. Peter Hoadley. CONCLUSION John Prados. Nonetheless. whether the dis- experimentally by having students evaluate the two kinds of experi. these need to be “calibrated” by comparison tion programs enabled by enormous. Activities might include a dis. Students could be asked to complete the online experi. tions for improvements to the manuscript and suggested areas for 6) Novel approaches to meeting laboratory objectives: At this time. both kinds of programs. Of course. as well as problems with instrument calibration. Edward Ernst. meet the same objectives but that can be performed remotely. suggested that laboratories can be foregone completely. cheap computing power. Internet can tell the difference between a physical and a simulated Certainly the central purpose of engineering is still to modify na- experiment. By considering the physics of the system being simulated. the community will have development of effective assessment methods. most engi- interfaces that appear to be operating real equipment but are really neering educators agree that students must have some contact—or providing access to simulations. but rather Ron DeLyser. it is instructional laboratories by inserting a discipline that has thus far essential that there be experimental verification that the associated largely been absent. 3) The effectiveness of remote laboratories: As the number of un. Cary Fisher. Continuing discussions and further research are needed to deter- tions are to represent the physical world. are certain to emerge. The following are some areas that the authors and oth. effective way to bring this about. Another way of approaching the problem would be not to try Richard Culver. but ment and then indicate whether they thought they were dealing engineers do this increasingly from a computer terminal and not with real equipment or a simulation. making this kind of comparative If this standard is met. University of South Carolina. they have been taken for granted to a considerable extent. The fundamental objectives can serve as a periment consisting of physical equipment. have helped to prompt discussion about why laboratories are impor- 2) Methods of assessing laboratory effectiveness: Starting with the tant and what are the characteristics of a good laboratory exercise. researchers should be expected to identify their specific objec- tional offerings through evaluation of students who have completed tives and then demonstrate that those objectives have been achieved. University of Tennessee. different viewpoints can be as effective in meeting objectives as remote access to an ex. Air Force Academy. they must simulate not mine the most efficient. This can be explored framework to sharpen and focus this discussion. U. ness of practices they observe in other institutions. The fundamen- cipline-specific survey of faculty or an analysis of proposals received tal objectives developed in an ABET/Sloan Foundation colloquy by funding agencies such as the National Science Foundation. this would be done by comparison with tradi. fundamental objectives—or some modification thereof—it would These fundamental objectives can and should provide a frame- be interesting and useful to develop and evaluate a means of assess. have combined to refocus attention on laboratories. to go back to the root of the objective and to find new experiments that C. From the beginning of engineering education. Some work has been done on this. Faculties who are ing how well these objectives are achieved. remote access of real equipment: may be able to use those activities in cases for promotion and tenure. at least be made to believe they have had contact—with nature. This added degree of “re. and to objectives currently in use and by developing an understanding of the growing number of online undergraduate engineering programs the objectives on a disciplinary basis. ture ethically and economically for the benefit of humankind. but further development would be useful. As a result. to find a way to perform this or that particular experiment. SUNY Binghamton. laboratories have The authors also express their appreciation to the reviewers and had a central role in the education of engineers. 5) Laboratory simulations that include “noise”: If online simula. SUNY Binghamton. as noted above. it has never been ers believe can be particularly fruitful. There is disagreement over whether or not a simulated laboratory Finally. tion. At times. Instead of simply creating a clever laboratory ex- laboratory experience is effective in meeting the overall objectives of ercise and then reporting on levels of student interest and satisfac- the program. study versus more theoretical classroom work. It would be valuable to see if a student working over the which the objectives are met. 1) A further understanding of the fundamental objectives of instruc. the quality and usefulness of research on labo- assessment requires agreement on the objectives to be pursued and ratories will increase markedly. The objectives can also suggest and direct research in engineering dergraduate engineering distance education programs increases. Robert Emerson. the development of powerful simula- useful list of objectives. University of Denver. Vanderbilt University. The authors gratefully acknowledge the contributions of the fol- ality” could contribute significantly to the success of simulation in lowing individuals who generously provided comments and sugges- the context suggested in the previous paragraph.S. a greater respect for educational research and more faculty members 4) Effectiveness of simulation vs. agreement is about the validity of the objectives or the ways in ences. While there has the editors whose comments were very helpful in guiding the prepa- been an ebb and flow in the perceived importance of laboratory ration of the final version of the article. and IX. only the ideal model but the natural variability of parameters as well. Experts in the field of interested in sharpening the purpose of their laboratory programs— assessment could team with faculty members who are dedicated to or increasing their efficiency—can use the objectives to direct and laboratory development to design and test assessment methods facilitate their curricular discussions and also to judge the effective- keyed to the objectives. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS the developer can insert both random and systematic errors. as discussion of laboratories grows. work for improving current laboratory practice.experience. Ideally.

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