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Seminar Pendidikan Kejuruteraan dan Alam Bina 2012

Kongres Pengajaran & Pembelajaran UKM2012

15 18 Disember 2012

Open Ended Laboratory Through Student's Designed Experiment

Hilmi Sanusi*
Jabatan Kejuruteraan Elektrik, Elektronik dan Sistem, FKAB, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, 43600 UKM Bangi, Selangor, Malaysia"

Abstract The laboratory work for the first year student of Electrical, Electronic and System Engineering which is compulsory, exposes the student to the practical work to learn hands-on. Previously, a project is assigned to a group of two students and they will try either to construct it or to solve it within the last two weeks of the laboratory session. Then they need to present the lesson that they learnt during the project. A trial of students designed experiment was introduced during 2011/2012 session to replace the previously assigned project. Students are required to use previously learnt laboratory session in order to design their own laboratory. During the process of designing the experiment, they are also required to determine the objective, the scope of the experiment, the methodology and the theory behind the experiment. Each group is required to prove their experiment during presentation and to prepare a report. The student is graded based on the originality of their idea, the amount of previously learnt laboratory, oral presentation and lesson learnt through their experiment. Even though students found the project to be difficult, but based on the number of experiment surfacing from exercise is encouraging. In fact one of the experiments designed through the course has been used in second year laboratory course. 2012 Published by Elsevier Ltd.
Keywords: open ended project; students design experiment; student-centered lab

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1. Introduction The role of engineer is to create benefits for humankind through manipulating materials, energy and information. In our increasingly technologically-based society, engineering education has a central role in preparing engineers for the full disciplinary nature of the problems they will face. Even though engineering and engineering education are more diverse now than before, but the society demands even more (Peterson & Feisel 2002). Engineers are required to have knowledge beyond theory, which can be gained through laboratory work. The nature and emphasis of these laboratories have change over the years to cope with the current needs. Laboratory experiment is intended to answer specific questions of immediate importance, but on the other hand, most of the laboratory instructions are designed to learn something that is well understood by practicing engineers (Feisal & Rosa 2005). A glimpse through several journals in Engineering Education, relatively little has been written about laboratory instruction and delivery since much attention has been paid to curriculum and teaching methods. At the Department of Electricals, Electronics and Systems Engineering (JKEES), UKM, laboratory works initially have not been given a serious attention; Year 1, Year 2 and Year 3 have only one lab course each year to cater all the requirements. Later, several embedded lab was introduced and several lab manuals have been experimented to given to the students. Requirement from the government and the governing and accreditation bodies call for several modifications and improvements to the lab manual. Engineering Accreditation Council (EAC) which is the responsible body to represent the Washington Accord, a world accreditation treaty, is constantly improving the quality of graduates thus set new requirements to the lab experiments. Apart from these requirements, the students must be prepared with current technology so that they are fit for employment. Nevertheless, students also must capable to conduct their own experiment so that they are able to explore new knowledge. Each of these interested parties or stakeholders have their own set of requirements. Setting all the specifications required to design a laboratory instruction is indispensable in order to produce a concomitant benefit between stakeholders. Independent of the method of delivery, the engineering instructional laboratories must meet at least one of the fundamental objectives (Feisel & Peterson 2002). 2. Background

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Previously, the lab instruction at the department is strongly influenced by the dominant educational paradigm, "didactic instruction," where learning is viewed as an information transmission process: teachers have the information, students don't, and teachers' lectures serve to move information into the heads of students. (Soloway et al. 1996). Contrary, the new requirements for the engineering education are encouraging for students to be actively engaged in learning, constructing understanding and meaning, not just receiving it. The didactic instruction or sometimes known as teacher- centered learning determines methods, activities, and techniques that will be used by the teacher. The teacher decides what is to be learned, what is to be tested, and how the class is to be run. Usually, the teacher is in the centre of the classroom giving instruction with little input from students; and decides the goals of the class based on some outside criteria. Yuhua characterized the student centered learning as teacher plays peripheral roles where students are the focus to control over activity or give some input to the curriculum and allowing students to design their own assessment. The teacher monitors the students that work in groups and gives advice or ideas so that they may draw conclusions and solutions independently or cooperatively. Comparing both pedagogy methods, Johnson and Johnson (1989) found that group presentation in student-centred education resulted higher morale of as students seemed to enjoy the competitiveness and stimulation of group. The students not only scored higher academically but also gained some social skills through cooperative work that bond within the group members. JKEES currently runs several departmental labs; either embedded (run concurrent with the subject but need to register independently) or courses by their own. A lab coordinator will constantly review the lab experiments and their relevance to the field as well as their pedagogical impact on the current students. Prior to the start of a session, a meeting with the lab teaching team is organized to select topics that are required to be given some emphasis so that specific lab instruction can be designed. The topics are obtained from consultation with several course coordinators that teach fundamental courses. Throughout the semester, several meetings are coordinated with lab teaching team to ensure the running of the lab is in tandem with the courses taught. Figure 1 shows the step taken by students from receiving the manuals to submitting the lab report. Students are given an instruction, time table, lab safety procedure and lab manual during the first week of the session. The lab session only starts at the third week of the session. This enables the lab to run a week behind the lecture such that the lab can either be revision to the lecture or strengthening the understanding of the theory. In the past, all of the instructions are clearly given to the students and with the help of demonstrator; students are expected to obtain certain specific results that follow the marking scheme. There are ten topics that are selected with the last two weeks will be used by the student to prepare for their projects. Many things have been experimented for the projects; from building line tracking car to soldering a given simple circuit. Many of those used to fill in the gap of the EAC requirement without a specific objective in mind. There are several problems arisen from the implementation of the lab. Students tend to take lightly on the lab experiments as they have a collection of lab results, thus they will just use one of the past results to be copied without really doing the experiment. To worsen the problem, the pre lab that needs to be prepared prior to the lab and discussion that needs to be hand in a day later is merely a cut and paste or just changing the font. The groups of students that do the lab on Monday feel disadvantage as the group later of the week will obtain the solution from them. Students have lost enthusiasm in doing the experiment thus requires fresh new approach in conducting the experiment. Students need to be challenged in order to make them to be more creative.

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Instruction manual Pre Lab Lab session Data collection Exp. conclusion Discussion Figure 1. Students experiment procedure Several new strategies have been introduced to lessen the problems, such as the lab report must be hand written, the discussion need to be handed in the same day and other measures. However, these are only immediate remedies that do not give a long term solution. Student-centered learning offers some benefits where it is able to persuade students to think more about their learning style, learning ability and preferences. But the whole principle of student-centered learning cannot be adopted at the department as the timetable disallows them doing it at their own pace. Indeed, the new lab manual was planned which has an emphasis on student-centered learning process. The core idea in the new lab manuals is the students will come out with their own method in handling the experiment. Developing a new lab manual usually takes quite some time and effort, so most of the experiments that cover basic knowledge in Electrical Engineering will remain as is. The experiments are classified into two categories; guided lab experiments and unguided lab experiments. The guided experiments are primarily basic experiments that help the student to understand fundamental measurement, data collecting, analysis and interpretation. Unguided lab experiment exposes the student to do design and analysis. The lab manual intended for department will gradually reduces the guided lab experiments and increases the number of unguided experiments. In order to measure the students ability to handle the new approach in dealing with the lab, one of the experiments is selected as a first step toward student-centered lab experiments. The result will be used as a yardstick on how to implement and the rate of implementation.

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The most suitable experiment that can be used as a pilot experiment is the project. Initially, students were given topics, circuit or simple projects to be completed in the last two weeks where they will have to present their results, discusses the lesson learnt and prepare a formal lab report. Some good students feel the challenge is too simple for them, whereas for the weak students, the same challenge is too difficult for them. Most of the time, students have a tendency to disagree with the project that was given to them. A trial of students design experiment was introduced during 2011/2012 session. Instead of the students were assigned with a topics, they need to come out with their own set of experiment to measure some unknown parameters using the methods previously learnt during the lab. Students are informed two weeks prior to the beginning of the project week and should present the topic a week before the project start. This is because the subjects are totally new to both of the students and the lab instructors. The proposal from the students need to be analyzed carefully such that the experiment must possess the fundamental objectives of engineering instructional laboratories as suggested by (Peterson & Feisel 2002) which are listed in Table 1. As for the students, they are required to give a process flow of their experiment and state clearly the objective of their experiment. They also need to emphasize the scope and show clearly the methodology of the experiment. The methodology used will make use of the theory that they have learnt in the classroom and also in the lab. Partial or full simulation is also needed in the proposal. The scope of experiment not only discusses related parameters but also explain a definite distribution of contribution of each member in the experiment. Finally, the students will be evaluated during the oral presentation where they need to show and prove the workability of their experiment and how do they measure or obtain such parameters. They are also encouraged to show the calibration processes if a sensor is being developed. A formal lab report is also expected from the student at the end of the presentation. The grade of the project covers to about 20% - 25% of the total mark, which is equivalent to a final exam. The project is graded based on the originality of the idea, the amount of knowledge used in the previous lab, presentation which includes the functionality of the experiment and lesson learnt through the experiment. The originality of idea can be judge from the methodology presented in the report. The technique used in order to carry out the methodology indicates the amount of previously experienced lab being used. Oral presentation during the demonstration of the experiment points out the functionality of the experiment. One can easily judge if the experiment is taken from others or copied from online resources during the presentation. Usually, if the experiment is originally from their idea, a graph is shown to demonstrate the relation between parameters before a generalize relation is made. The conclusion and discussion from the experiment illustrate the lesson learnt throughout the experiment.
Table 1. Objectives of engineering instructional laboratories. Objective 1 2 Description Instrumentation. Models. Criteria Apply appropriate sensors, instrumentation, and/or software tools to make measurements of physical quantities. Identify the strengths and limitations of theoretical models as predictors of real-world behaviours. This may include evaluating whether a theory adequately describes a physical event and establishing or validating a relationship between measured data and underlying physical principles.

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Data Analysis.


6 7 8 9 10

Learn from Failure. Creativity. Psychomotor. Safety. Communication.



12 13

Ethics in the Laboratory Sensory Awareness

Devise an experimental approach, specify appropriate equipment and procedures, implement these procedures, and interpret the resulting data to characterize an engineering material, component, or system. Demonstrate the ability to collect, analyze, and interpret data, and to form and support conclusions. Make order of magnitude judgments and use measurement unit systems and conversions. Design, build, or assemble a part, product, or system, including using specific methodologies, equipment, or materials; meeting client requirements; developing system specifications from requirements; and testing and debugging a prototype, system, or process using appropriate tools to satisfy requirements. Identify unsuccessful outcomes due to faulty equipment, parts, code, construction, process, or design, and then reengineer effective solutions Demonstrate appropriate levels of independent thought, creativity, and capability in real-world problem solving. Demonstrate competence in selection, modification, and operation of appropriate engineering tools and resources. Identify health, safety, and environmental issues related to technological processes and activities, and deal with them responsibly. Communicate effectively about laboratory work with a specific audience, both orally and in writing, at levels ranging from executive summaries to comprehensive technical reports Work effectively in teams, including structure individual and joint accountability; assign roles, responsibilities, and tasks; monitor progress; meet deadlines; and integrate individual contributions into a final deliverable. Behave with highest ethical standards, including reporting information objectively and interacting with integrity. Use the human senses to gather information and to make sound engineering judgments in formulating conclusions about real-world problems.

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3. Results and Discussions The numbers of groups that are able to accomplish the project are encouraging. About 30% of the groups are able to come out with their own original idea on how to measure a simple thing with a different approach. More than half of the groups modify experiments they obtain from online resources and about 20% of the groups imitate almost exactly from their finding from online resources. This distribution mainly influenced by the mixture of the student in the group. The group that came out with their experiment is found to be a mixture of a good performing student academically. The middle group is a mixture of a good student and lesser performing student or both of the students in the group are average students. The last percentile is a mixture of both lesser performing students academically. There are mix reactions gathered from the students, from interesting to very difficult task. The group that came out with a creative solution point out that the experiment is very interesting but the last percentile group indicates that the project is very difficult. Even though less than half of the student in the class is able to do it successfully, but the majority of them know what should be done. Since the students are newly exposed to be independent with no guidance, they are lack of confidence but not the creativity as they are used to do experiment based on instruction. As a result, students tend to modify experiment that they found from online resources and adapt with requirements of the project as they need instructions in conducting the experiment. This exercise provides a collection of experiments that apply the fundamental theory which is available to be used in the guided lab experiments. The lab instructor team in fact has chosen an experiment to build as inclinometer based on resistivity plate for the application of Wheatstone bridge. The exercise also shows that the students in the department are able to perform their own experiment with minimal guidance. Currently, the lab has introduces six unguided experiments and only four guided experiments. 4. Conclusion The pilot project in the open ended lab experiment indicates the capability of the students in handling such experiment. The capability of the group in conducting the experiment depends heavily on the mixture of the academic achievement of the students. However, the requirements from other classes and labs prohibit from having a good mixture of students apart from students racial and social diversity. As a result from this exercise, the department introduced six unguided lab experiments while maintaining only three guided lab experiments that lead through the students to basic measurement. The students designed experiment will be closely monitored to ensure no more cut and paste experiments used by the students. Acknowledgements The author would like to thank the Head of Department for giving the freedom and having the full confidence for the Lab coordinator to introduce new methods in lab experiments. And to all of the lab team members, Mohd Fauzi A.S., Seri Mastura, Mohd Asrul, Mohd Hairi, Mohd Hafiz, Fazila and Farizah for giving a full commitment in handling a new delivery method. Last but not least and the most importantly, 2nd Year students 2011/2012 session for being a guinea pig for this experiment.

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References Feisel, L.D., Peterson, G.D. (2002). A Colloquy on Learning Objectives For Engineering Education Laboratories. Proceedings of the 2002 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition. San Diego. USA. Feisel, L.D., Rosa, A.J. (2005). The Role of the Laboratory in Undergraduate Engineering Education, Journal of Engineering Education. Vol 94. No 1. pp 121-130 Johnson, B. and Johnson B. (1989). Cooperative learning: A new direction. Education, vol. 117, pp. 39-42. National Science Foundation, Division of Undergraduate Education (1995). Restructuring Engineering Education: A Focus on Change. NSF 95-65. Peterson, G.D., Feisel, L.D. (2002). e-Learning: The Challenge for Engineering Education. e-Technologies in Engineering Education, A United Engineering Foundation Conference, Davos, Switzerland, 1116 August, 2002, Soloway, E., Jackson, S.L., Klein, J., Quintana, C., Reed, J., Spitulnik, J., Stratford, S.J., Studer, S., Eng, J., Scala, N. (1996). Learning Theory in Practice: Case Studies of Learner-Centered Design. CHI '96 Proceedings of the SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, ACM New York, NY, USA. Pp. 189-196 Special Report The National Engineering Education Research Colloquies, Oct. 2006. Journal of Engineering Education. Yuhua, S. (2005). Student-centred methods used in an Instrumental Analysis Laboratory Course. The China Papers, UniServe Science, Australia