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5 The Role of Laboratory Instruction By all counts, the amount of undergraduate engineering laboratory instruction has declined drastically in many institutions over a period of years. The decline began in the 1950s and 1960s when shifts in curricular content toward scientific theory resulted in Reemphasis on the amounts of time and effort devoted to laboratory work. In more recent years undergraduate enrollments have doubled and the number of faculty has increased by only 10 percent, which has meant even less time available for such instruction. This erosion accompanied a per- ception among many engineering and science faculty and administra- tors that laboratory instruction was of considerably less importance than other means of instruction and certainly of less value than their own research. Under these conditions, it was the exception when fac- ulty developed and maintained vigorous, modern, high-quality lal~ora tory courses. Also affecting laboratory instruction, budget constraints since the early 1970s have reduced funds for equipment to a small fraction of previous allocations, or almost to nothing in some disciplines. As stated in a report by the National Society of Professional Engineers ~ 1982:32: Clearly the problems of large class size, high student-to-faculty ratios, deteri- orating physical plants, inadequate equipment, and inability to acquire labo- ratory equipment commensurate with present-day technological advances in industry are too widespread to be ignored.... Continuing obsolescence of laboratory equipment and instruments has placed many schools in the posi- tion of not being representative of modern professional practice. 76

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THE ROLE OF LABORATORY INSTRUCTION 77 In many cases, labs have become so overcrowded that hands-on expe- rience and personal involvement are reduced often with the result that students lose interest or learn to disdain such work. Faculty do not have enough technical assistance to set up and check out experiments and to provide routine service and maintenance, or even to keep track of the location of equipment. Only those who have developed and taught laboratory courses know that such instruction requires much more time than lecturing does. Faculty become frustrated and discour- aged by so many problems and by the perception that lab work is not valued. They feel that their time is better spent earning the rewards of their own research and publication; laboratory instruction yields no rewards. Under these circumstances, "faculty interest in developing, renewing, [and] teaching undergraduate engineering laboratories" steadily decreases Ernst et al., 1983:203. As a result, the quality of education declines, and students are the losers. Purposes of Laboratory Work The concept of the undergraduate student as an experimenter is fun- damental to engineering education and to the role of a practicing engi- neer. The undergraduate student should become an experimenter in the laboratory, which "should provide him with the basic tools for experimentation, just as the engineering sciences provide him with the basic tools for analysis" tErnst, 1983b:4~. It is a place to learn new and developing subject matter as well as insight and understanding of the real world of the engineer. Such insights include model identification, validation and limitations of assumptions, prediction of the perfor- mance of complex systems, testing and compliance with specifica- tions, and an exploration for new fundamental information. "The labo- ratory should Also] serve as a means for the continuing professional development of the faculty.... The faculty member who develops and continues to revise a laboratory course for engineering students will find this experience to be a learning one" ~Ernst, 1983a:52~. Faculty in the Laboratory As early as 1967, the Commission on Engineering Education of the American Society for Engineering Education LASER observed, "Inter- ested staff are necessary to the success of an undergraduate laboratory program, yet this fact seems to have gone unnoticed.... Department heads feel] helpless to change conditions in their province because of lack of staff, staff-loading problems, university policies for staff recog

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78 ENGINEERING UNDERGRADUATE EDUCATION nition, publication and research policies, and a lack of conviction of the importance of the undergraduate laboratory program" {Commission on Engineering Education, 1967) . The only hope for using the laboratory to educate undergraduates for engineering in the real world may be if "faculty involved in the develop- ment and continuing revision of a laboratory course find this to be a creative activity one that can be rewarding in terms of the continued professional development of the faculty member. iNew laboratory courses] may be related to the research efforts or teaching interests or some other professional interest of the faculty involved, -. . . [an approach that offers] laboratory instruction as a career development activity for faculty at all levels" Ernst et al., 1983:204~. Faculty must have the support of the department chairman and the dean to reach this level of interest and commitment. However, those who evaluate the work of faculty members rarely recognize the value of the laboratory experience in the preparation of an undergraduate to do engineering. Nor do they recognize the burden of work that it imposes. For example, The faculty member must hold] weekly sessions with the TA's to review the lab to be conducted, Monitor] TA's to ensure prompt return of lab reports and appropriateness of grading, "update] written materials for the lab, "purchase] new or replacement items in the lab, even trun] experiments to check for smooth operation. The commitment of time and effort . . . is far greater if a new . . . lab is to be introduced into the curriculum. The latter ttasks] may run the gamut from obtaining funds and equipment from industry, trying out and analyzing various setups, developing courseware, encouraging accuracy and appropriateness of actual results, running tests with students, seven to] designing and building new hardware and developing software. John, 1983: 139] Deans and department heads need a plan for helping faculty mem- bers develop laboratories that have full institutional support. Bradley University chairman Max A. Wessler responded to the shambles he found in his laboratory by retaining a coordinator to oversee and revital- ize his laboratory program as soon as a vacancy permitted him to hire a person completing his doctorate. Wessler worked directly with the new lab coordinator to plan the redesign and modernization of the lab and the courses to be taught in it. The considerable time and energy that he devoted to working with the coordinator demonstrated a commitment "to him and to the project and underscored the priority established for the laboratory." The coordinator's trust that his efforts would be rewarded helped him establish good communications within the

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THE ROLE OF LABORATORY INSTRUCTION 79 department. "Because of his success in teaching and laboratory leader- ship plus an impressive record of research achievements documented by publications, [the coordinator received a] promotion one year before he met normal minimum time in rank requirements" tWessler, 1983: 132-133). Experience for a Career In 1966 the Committee for Laboratory Development reported to the ASEE Annual Meeting that "in many cases, facilities for the undergrad- uate laboratories and the tasks students carry out bear little resem- blance to the real world in which the student will later be embedded" {Ernst, 19831~:1~. Seventeen years later an industrial spokesman said: "The Engineers should be talking to each other about their activities informally and they should be talking with lab instructors formally. They do not need grades in this. They just need lots of practice" jHalverson, 1983:38J. If strong academic leadership can persuade the faculty that its objective is to educate students to do engineering, "the next step is to recognize that skillful use of experimental technology is vital to good engineering. No one can learn that lesson except by doing engineering. The faculty must do engineering to appreciate the utility and reality of using experimental technology.... Involvement of the faculty, as coaches not as lecturers, with student groups doing realistic projects, is good and adequate education for the faculty" {Dean, 1983:44~. The Industrial View Robert C. Dean, Ir., president of Verax Corporation and adjunct pro- fessor of engineering at Dartmouth College, offered the following observations to his colleagues at a 1983 conference on the undergradu- ate engineering laboratory: iSome industries] are disappointed with the experimental skills of your prod- ucts. We are also disappointed with their training, in general, in how to use their academic learning. Many others have chastised you for being "aca- demic" {Webster: "unconnected with reality" I. Your students must be ulti- mate realists to be good. How can they be good if you educate them primarily in mathematics and applied science taught by scholars? Where is the clinical training that the medical profession insists is essential for the medical practi- tioner? Why is not such training essential for the technology practitioner too?" Dean, 1983:43]

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80 ENGINEERING UNDERGRADUATE EDUCATION Another practitioner, Harley Halverson of Hewlett-Packard's Elec- trical Engineering Laboratory, explained that engineering "education should involve as much hands-on experience as practical, doing things engineers do designing, building, testing, redesigning, etc." He cites the example of an engineer working on a new signal generator: He was a radio frequency analog designer starting out on the bench his first day at Hewlett-Packard; he was assigned a mentor who would help him but was expected to be able to design circuits without further training. No one taught him how to solder or to build breadboard circuits or to use the basic test equipment. Halverson's description of hiring at Hewlett- Packard shows how important it is that engineering graduates be able to do engineering as well as think about it: When HP is hiring a new engineer, it looks for at least two technical quali- ties. First, it wants engineers with good theoretical and analytical ability. We do state-of-the-art designs, and we need state-of-the-art designers. At least thirty percent of every design team are engineers who have never designed a new product before. They do not get to practice. It is for real the first time. As a result, engineers need to lie prepared to engineer when they come out of school. Second, it looks for engineers who like to work with their hands. They cannot lie just theoretical. They need to like to build things.... If they have never had the opportunity to design, build, and test something while in school, they have missed what it means to be an engineer. This is not uncom- mon. Every year we talk to many prospective graduates who have very little idea of what an engineer really does. When they get to their first job they may find that they do not even like being an engineer. So a strong laboratory experience is a vital part of an undergraduate education. tHalverson, 1983 :37] Scientific Understanding The issue of laboratory experience in the education of the engineer is basically a matter of the teaching of scientific understanding. "In a laboratory a slice of the world is isolated in such a way that it can be manipulated easily and scrutinized at will.... It is also a condensation of real life experience into a manageable amount of time and space. This makes it especially useful as a teaching format" {Graham, 1983:47, quoting Edward Allen, "Things Learned in Lab," fournal of Architectural Education 34tWinter 1980:22-25. To those whose emphasis on scientific education of the engineer may urge them to devalue laboratory experience, Edward W. Ernst {1983a:52~ puts the issue this way: "The problems are not simply with manipulative skill," he says. "There are difficulties in attitude regarding what sci- ence is all about."

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THE ROLE OF LABORATOR Y INS TR UCTION Practicing Engineers Do Experiments 81 Practicing engineers must put their knowledge of science to use in an interactive cycle of analysis, design, and experiment. We appear to have a new realization that the purpose of engineering is to solve human problems. . . . The Japanese have taught us and scared us into realizing that the economic world is a tough place where only well-engineered products can survive and prosper the Nation's citizens. These] products must rest on strong technology bases and must lie well tested. The purposes of the engi- neer's experimental technology are, first, to aid powerfully in building the technology lease and, second, to test definitively in order to prove that the product will meet its specs in service. Dean, 1983:42] The engineer's basic tools are information, analytical modeling {mathematical analysis), and experimental modeling. Experimental technology has brought the profession to a turning point in engineering education as well as in practice. In a presentation to the Texas Society of Engineers, GIoyna et al. {1979J said: "The tremendous development of the transistor and later the microprocessor has made possible the appli- cation of digital and computer techniques to all fields of measurement. This has made it possible to perform experiments in undergraduate laboratories that were impossible a few years ago with an accuracy that bares the true value of an engineering theory or design. " The undergrad- uate engineer's tools are available; what is needed now is the will as well as the means to purchase them, and the understanding to help students put them to use. The Panel on Undergraduate Engineering Education recommends that, since it is of primaryimportance that the role and significance of laboratory instruction in undergraduate engineering education be emphasized, colleges of engineering must address this priority need and, together with industry and government, provide the funding to achieve thegoalofintegratinglaboratorypracticein engineeringeduca- tion. A Lab Curriculum Like any other curriculum, one that requires laboratory experience should be based on a theory of instruction. Its designers must under- stand how learning occurs in the laboratory. They must know how much laboratory will provide that learning, and they must be able to measure the effectiveness of any method used. They should establish objectives of laboratory instruction, such as the following ~Pulsifer, 1983:57~:

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82 ENGINEERING UNDERGRADUATE EDUCATION a. Demonstrate and reinforce principles discussed in classroom. 1~. Develop proficiency in performing experiments. c. Gain experience in use of measuring instruments and basic statistical techniques. d. Give students practice in planning experimental work. e. Develop proficiency in oral and written presentation of technical mate- rial. f. Expose students to teamwork in technical areas. Under the present conditions of undergraduate engineering educa- tion in the laboratory, there is need of "a different place for the labora- tory in the undergraduate curriculum, different characteristics for the laboratory courses, different equipment" Ernst et al., 1983:206~. Fac- ulty and administrators need to think about new approaches to labora- tory instruction, new ways for students to learn, and new types of equipment. Says Ernst: Deans and department chairmen must be persuaded to exercise their leader- ship in support of the undergraduate engineering laboratory. In turn, the faculty must support the efforts lay campus administrators by also aggres- sively pursuing all avenues of external support to provide a meaningful labo- ratory experience for all students receiving an undergraduate engineering education. In short, a commitment by all those involved is needed to revitalize the role of the laboratory in engineering education. Impact of High Technology on Laboratory Equipment To assess the impact of the high-tech revolution on instructional laboratory equipment, we must examine both the purposes of labora- tory courses in the undergraduate curriculum and the nature of the revolution that affects them. The revolution in laboratory equipment affects both the sensors and the data acquisition and data reduction equipment. Incorporation of digital rather than analog elements into most laboratory instruments today greatly increases their versatility as well as their complexity. The boundary between the computer and the laboratory instrument has now disappeared. The appropriate role of this equipment in undergraduate engineering curricula must be estab- lished, and universities need to keep undergraduate laboratory equip- ment abreast of such rapid advances. If the purpose of an experiment is to introduce the student to funda- mental physical measurements and an understanding of experimental techniques, sophisticated equipment may actually prevent real involvement of the student in the process. To receive an entire set of

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THE ROLE OF LABORATORY INSTRUCTION 83 data from the push of a single button has no more educational value than receiving a copy of a standard data sheet. On the other hand, when the purpose of the experiment is to introduce the student to the process of test and evaluation as it is used in industry, modern laboratory equip- ment of high quality is required. In this case, the student needs equip- ment that will produce, without excessive drudgery, accurate data for critical evaluation and use as a basis for engineering decisions. This latter process does require modern equipment that is at least represen- tative of equipment being used in industry. Keeping Current The cost of revitalizing undergraduate engineering laboratories is substantial, partly because their substance and importance has been neglected and partly because they need modernization. The National Society of Professional Engineers i 1982J acknowledged this in a major study which shows that the value of the average laboratory equipment inventory per school declined from $5,810,000 to $856,000 between 1972 and 1981. To bring the equipment of 250 schools with accredited programs back to the 1972 level would cost about $1.25 billion, adjusted for inflation. There is additional need, however, due to the doubling of enrollments, which would increase the cost to almost $2.2 billion. NSPE and others {Shoup et al., 1983~ calculate that it will take an investment of about $2,000 per student to correct the present short- fall. The figures just cited are staggering; policymakers may question them, but if realistic figures are used in any assessment of equipment needs, they will reveal the drastic inadequacy of our laboratories for preparing students for modern engineering practice. The accumulation of neglect spans a quarter of a century. Instead of depending solely on the projection of figures related to past pedagogical practices, perhaps the solution lies in convincing the faculty of the benefits that they and their students will gain by teaching current engineering practice in the laboratory. While the costs to modernize our laboratories will still be high, the renewal process can only occur if the faculty take the initia- tive in revitalizing laboratory instruction. Characteristics of Future Laboratories The summation of the 1983 ASEE-ABET conference on the under- graduate engineering laboratory described the characteristics of future laboratories Ernst et al., 1983: 205-206~:

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84 ENGINEERING UNDERGRADUATE EDUCATION 1. Faculty involvement will make them challenging, interesting, and constantly changing to be up to date. 2. Students will have considerably less laboratory experience, and some courses will be elective to fit each student's interests. 3. Clearly understood objectives for the laboratory courses will lie essential. 4. While fewer laboratory experiences will require less equipment where practical it will be such as engineers use in the field. 5. The presence of support personnel will allow faculty members to concentrate on continuing development of the laboratory and- nonrou- tine interaction of the students. 6. The laboratory work will serve as a focus of significant individual student-faculty interaction; this should enhance the undergraduate educational program for the student. 7. Each of the above " should increase the stature of the faculty. " The Panel on Undergraduate Engineering Education recommends that a national program of government-industry-college matching grants is needed to address the problem of replacing outdated equip- ment and of maintaining increasingly complex experimental equip- ment. Industry, academe, t?ncl the professional societies need to join forces in promoting tax legislation to facilitate gifts of laboratory equip- ment to colleges of engineering. References Commission on Engineering Education.1967. "New Directions in Laboratory Instruc- tion for Engineering Students. " Engineering Education 58 lNovemberJ: 191- 195. Dean, Robert C., Jr. 1983. "Laboratory Experience for Engineering Students," in The Undergraduate Engineering Laboratory [New York: Engineering Foundation). Ernst, Edward W. 1983a. "The Role of Laboratory Instruction," in The Undergraduate Engineenng Laboratory New York: Engineering Foundation) . Ernst, Edward W. 1983b. "The Engineering UG Lab: The Historical Perspective," in The Undergraduate Engineering Laboratory (New York: Engineering Foundation). Ernst, Edward W., et al. 1983. "The Future of the Undergraduate Laboratory," in The Undergraduate Engineenng Laboratory {New York: Engineering Foundation) . Gloyna, E., et al. 1979. "Presentation to the Coordination Board, Texas College and University System Study Committee," Texas Society of Professional Engineers, November 7. Graham, A. Richard. 1980. "Needed: A Theory ofLaboratoryInstruction," in The Undergraduate Engineenng Laboratory (New York: Engineering Foundation) . Halverson, Harley. 1983. "Electrical Engineering Laboratory at Hewlett Packard," in The Undergraduate Engineenng Laboratory {New York: Engineering Foundation). John, James E. A. 1983. "A Dean's View of the Undergraduate Laboratory," in The

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THE ROLE OF LABORATORY INSTRUCTION 85 Undergraduate Engineering Laboratory (New York: Engineering Foundation). National Society of Professional Engineers. 1982. Engineering Education Problems: The LaboratoryEquipment Factor "Washington, D. C.: NSPE, September) . Pulsifer, Allen H. 1983. "Restructuring a Laboratory-Application of Objectives," in The Undergraduate EngineeringLaboratory iNew York: Engineering Foundation). Shoup, Terry E., James H. Lawrence, and David Wells. 1983. "The Crisis in Mechanical Engineering Laboratories," in The Undergraduate Engineering Laboratory (New York: Engineering Foundation). Wessler, Max A. 1983. "A Department Chairman's View of Laboratory Faculty, " in The Undergraduate Engineering Laboratory New York: Engineering Foundation).