A three-way approach to investigating student learning styles in an engineering laboratory

Constantin Ciocanel, Suzanne Pieper

Research output: Contribution to journalConference articlepeer-review


This paper presents the approach taken in the Experimental Methods in the Thermal Sciences Laboratory offered by the Mechanical Engineering Department from Northern Arizona University to investigate laboratory-specific student learning styles. To support this approach, the laboratory was reorganized to include three teaching modules: a subject-based learning (SBL) module, a problem-based learning (PBL) module, and a hybrid module incorporating aspects of both the SBL and PBL approaches. In addition, a web-based learning interface was developed and implemented to support two out of the three modules, the hybrid and the problembased modules. The purpose of this interface was to expose the students to the theory associated with the experiment, the experimental procedure, and, for a selected number of experiments, to a video of the experiment. Providing different levels of support for the experiments, together with different visual material, allowed us to evaluate which channels of communication were most efficient in this context. An additional component of the new format of the laboratory consisted of more hands-on opportunities being created for the students. Accordingly, in the problembased module, the students were required to design and build a setup that allowed them to investigate experimentally a theoretical problem of their choice (upon approval by the lab instructor). For these experiments, the students were required to develop the laboratory procedure and the experiment handout such that a third party would be able to perform the experiment without guidance. A set of measures was designed and implemented for each learning module. An assessment of student learning and development over time was performed using these measures. The results of assessment are presented and inferences on which learning style was preferred by the analyzed sample are made.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalASEE Annual Conference and Exposition, Conference Proceedings
StatePublished - 2009
Event2009 ASEE Annual Conference and Exposition - Austin, TX, United States
Duration: Jun 14 2009Jun 17 2009

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Engineering


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