Using Off-campus Student-designed Experiments to Aid in Student Learning

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Title: Using Off-campus Student-designed Experiments to Aid in Student Learning
Author: Sutherland, George
Abstract: In an upper level undergraduate elective course in vehicle dynamics, the author has developed some off-campus experimental-based assignments that involve the students (in pairs) designing the experiments and providing their own measuring tools and test vehicle to get results that they can compare with their calculated predictions. The students are free to design their own procedure or do some investigation and use an industry-standard approach. The students typically find that their experimental results vary considerably from their predictions. While this can be due to simple student implementation errors, it is typically a result of more complex issues. This leads to some deep learning (and a little frustration) for the students as they look into why their results, which they have clearly observed, should differ so much from those predicted by standard machine design and dynamics formulae they have previously used without question. Students must dig into and understand the assumptions behind the standard formulas and also the assumptions they made in designing and executing their experiments. (Texts and Internet articles are often misleading on this subject so students also get an appreciation for the nuances of interpreting what someone has written.) To balance the frustration factor associated with the “reality” of the assignment, there is a fun factor in testing using real vehicles (in various states of conforming to the original manufacturers’ specifications) that pushes the students further in the assignment than they would go with a typical campus lab experiment. The paper describes two of the experiments providing some sample student approaches with examples of experiment-calculation discrepancies and their likely causes.
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Date: 2007

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