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Student Voices regarding Practical Work done in a Mechanical Engineering Laboratory reveals Satistaction!

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Students can validly comment on the quality of teaching as they directly experience it and their comments are important to evaluate the nature and quality of educational interventions. The purpose of this paper is to consider student voices regarding practical instruction offered in a Mechanical Engineering laboratory, as this may indicate student satisfaction with the course material. An exploratory study is employed along with descriptive statistics involving quantitative analysis of the collected data. The target population is restricted to undergraduate engineering students enrolled during 2014, who completed a questionnaire survey using an electronic response system. Results indicate that the students perceived the practical experiments conducted in a laboratory to be enjoyable, beneficial, challenging and relevant to the theory covered in a classroom. These results further suggest that students are being exposed to practical work that may contribute to the development of practical skills and graduate attributes required of students to add value to the socio-economic development of South Africa.
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6th African Engineering Education Association Conference, CUT, FS.
99
Student Voices regarding Practical Work done in a
Mechanical Engineering Laboratory reveals
Satisfaction!
Annaléne Olwagen and Arthur James Swart
Faculty of Engineering and Information Technology
Central University of Technology, Private BagX20539, Bloemfontein, 9300
aswart@cut.ac.za
Abstract- Students can validly comment on the quality of
teaching as they directly experience it and their comments
are important to evaluate the nature and quality of
educational interventions. The purpose of this paper is to
consider student voices regarding practical instruction
offered in a Mechanical Engineering laboratory, as this
may indicate student satisfaction with the course material.
An exploratory study is employed along with descriptive
statistics involving quantitative analysis of the collected
data. The target population is restricted to undergraduate
engineering students enrolled during 2014, who completed a
questionnaire survey using an electronic response system.
Results indicate that the students perceived the practical
experiments conducted in a laboratory to be enjoyable,
beneficial, challenging and relevant to the theory covered in
a classroom. These results further suggest that students are
being exposed to practical work that may contribute to the
development of practical skills and graduate attributes
required of students to add value to the socio-economic
development of South Africa.
Keywords- Perceptions, perspectives; student satisfaction,
graduate attributes
I. INTRODUCTION
He who loves practice without theory is like the sailor who
boards ship without a rudder and compass and never knows
where he may cast. These words, by Leonardo da Vinci,
clearly demonstrate that theory and practice must be integrated
in order for any student to reach the final destination of
demonstrating the achievement of important graduate attributes
required by industry today. Although practical skills make up a
significant part of an engineering curriculum at a university of
technology (UoT), the current emphasis of engineering
education in South Africa (SA) is to build attributes that will
enable graduates to engage in life-long learning. The Central
University of Technology (CUT) has prescribed ten student
graduate attributes which students must demonstrate through
their entire diploma or degree. These include sustainable
development, problem solving, entrepreneurship, community
engagement, technological literacy, numeracy, teamwork,
communication, leadership and technical competence. Many of
these attributes may be assessed within a laboratory
environment, where engineering students are required to
integrate their theoretical knowledge with their practical work
[3]. Furthermore, a drive should exist to enable students to
apply their theoretical knowledge in practice in order to add
direct value to the socio-economic development of their
communities, a drive which has been encouraged for many
years [1, 2].
CUT offers a National Diploma in a number of engineering
disciplines and is therefore mandated by the Engineering
Council of South Africa (ECSA) to provide quality
engineering education programs that will ensure that SA has
an appropriate supply of competent engineering personnel with
the appropriate graduate attributes [3]. Several of these
attributes are assessed within laboratories at CUT, where
engineering students are required to integrate their theoretical
knowledge with their practical work. Previous research has
shown that undergraduate students in an electrical engineering
curriculum really enjoyed their practical work scheduled in a
laboratory, feeling that the practical work was relevant,
challenging and beneficial [2, 4, 5]. Laboratory work, or
hands-on activities, can improve student understanding and
lead to high student satisfaction with the learning experience
[6, 7]. However, this was reported on only for students in an
electronic communications course, with fewer results
published for undergraduate engineering students in other
disciplines at a university of technology. The following
research questions therefore arise: What are the perceptions of
undergraduate students with regard to practical work done in a
Mechanical Engineering laboratory? Do they find the practical
work to be enjoyable, relevant, challenging and beneficial?
Student voices are often associated with student feedback or
perceptions. Listening to student voices on aspects relating to
their educational experiences is an inexpensive, simple and
efficient research method to gather information [8] that allows
different aspects of the learning environment to be assessed on
the basis of the individual student [9]. It must though be noted
that student voices are really only personal assessments and
views of practices [8]. However, these voices constitute a
mental representation of learning activities that affect student’s
conscious and unconscious choices in the learning environment
[10]. Students can validly comment on the quality of teaching
as they directly experience it [11] and are important to evaluate
the nature and quality of educational interventions [12]. In fact,
a key dispositional factor, emerging from the literature that
serves to enhance or inhibit student retention is their
satisfaction with their course experience [13, 14]. This process
of listening to student voices is also a key way to carry out
teacher action research [15] which is a very important kind of
education research that is especially valuable for demonstrating
and evaluating classroom practices and linking theory and
research to practice [16].
6th African Engineering Education Association Conference, CUT, FS.
100
The purpose of this paper is to consider student voices
regarding practical instruction offered in an Applied Strength
of Materials laboratory within the Department of Mechanical
and Mechatronics Engineering at CUT. Reasons for listening
to student voices are first discussed, along with specific
practical experiments that have been linked to the theoretical
sections within the context of the case study used in this
research. The voices of undergraduate engineering students,
enrolled for a module in the National Diploma: Mechanical
Engineering qualification at CUT were obtained using a
questionnaire administered by means of an electronic response
system, which forms part of the research methodology.
Descriptive results are provided in a series of graphs with
succinct conclusions at the end. It is important to note that the
author was not involved with the practical work or course
material, but simply reports on the voices of students regarding
practical work to highlight that it is beneficial in promoting
student satisfaction and engagement.
II. BENEFITS OF STUDENT VOICES
Student voices are part of all conversations about teaching,
learning, and reform, as educators and policymakers have
recognized that not only do students have a right to be heard
but they also take the responsibility for education seriously
[17]. Student voices or feedback is often obtained in order to
determine the students’ satisfaction regarding the quality of the
education which they have received [13, 14], and has been
used to improve the quality of engineering education study
programs [18]. Student satisfaction within a specific course or
module is an important variable influencing student retention
[13, 14], and may lead to students recommending the course or
module to fellow students in subsequent academic years.
Furthermore, effective feedback is aimed at enhancing learning
and teaching by allowing one to compare the actual outcome
with the desired outcome [19, 20].
Student voices further allow faculty and students to be
empowered with resources to raise the level of academic rigor
[21]. Academic rigor is illustrated when students are actively
learning meaningful content with higher-order thinking at the
appropriate level of expectation in a given context [22]. This
level of expectation includes the right graduate attributes which
must be demonstrated by students before they enter Industry.
Student voices therefore play an important role in determining
if ALL the required graduate attributes have been covered in an
engineering curriculum.
Listening to student voices can help teachers to reflect
critically on their practice to develop policies and practices in
the classroom that will more strongly engage students [23].
Student engagement is defined as a two-way street that
includes the time and energy students spend on educationally
purposeful activities and the degree to which the university
gets students to participate in activities that lead to student
success [24]. Exposing students to weekly practical work in a
laboratory in order to reinforce their theoretical knowledge is
considered as student engagement within this study. Obtaining
student voices or feedback on this practical work has been
effectively used in engineering with regard to new laboratory
project designs [25] and in designing a mechanical engineering
course for general education [26].
III. CASE STUDY
The module used in this research, Applied Strength of
Materials 3 (MSK3), is a compulsory offering or module that
forms part of the National Diploma: Engineering: Mechanical
qualification, comprising of approximately 24 modules in total.
This module is usually offered during the final semester
(approximately 14 weeks in duration) of the diploma course
and builds on previously acquired knowledge in the field of
strength of materials. The purpose of the module is to provide
students with a general background of beam theory and to
calculate and understand principle stresses and strains in
engineering materials. The assessment of the theory is done
using a classroom written test, (25% contribution to the
semester mark), one main test (40% contribution to the
semester mark) and one main final examination. The student’s
final mark is calculated using 40% of the semester mark and
60% of the final examination. The classroom test covers
approximately 20% of the syllabus, while the main test covers
75% of the syllabus with the main final examination covering
100%. The main examination features approximately 40% of
applied knowledge, 30% of analysis and 30% of evaluate and
design questions.
Four practical assignments (35% contribution to the semester
mark) are included in the curriculum to help students to bridge
the gap between theoretical and practical instruction. These
practical assignments further enable students to exercise
engineering judgment and apply it to a practical problem.
MSK3 encourages group work where a number of students
attend practical sessions together. Table 1 lists the theoretical
concepts covered in each unit presented in MSK3, along with a
brief description of the practical experiment accompanying the
unit. CUT has prescribed ten student graduate attributes which
needs to be incorporated into the entire curriculum for the
National Diploma. Student competency must be demonstrated
with regard to sustainable development, problem solving,
entrepreneurship, community engagement, technologically
literate, numerate, teamwork, communication, leadership and
technical competence. Many of these graduate attributes are
assessed in the MSK3 laboratory and are correlated to the
practical experiments in the discussion which follows.
The first two practical experiments require students to measure
the deflections of a beam under various loads. The
experimental results are compared to theoretically calculated
results, where after students should comment on the findings
and evaluate any discrepancies or similarities. The practical
experiments are designed to test the students’ ability to work
and communicate effectively with others, collect and organize
information and perform specific calculations. Student
graduate attributes of teamwork, technical competency and
numeracy are therefore assessed.
6th African Engineering Education Association Conference, CUT, FS.
101
Students are expected to measure the strain on a pressure
cylinder (with known dimensions and material properties)
under various internal pressures as part of the third practical
experiment. The practical experimental results are compared
with theoretically calculated results and conclusions should be
made with regard to perceived differences and why they exist.
This practical experiment is designed to strengthen the
students’ ability to organize and manage themselves and their
activities responsibly while using science and technology
effectively. CUT student graduate attributes of numeracy
(calculating specific parameters using predefined equations)
and technological literacy (in terms of effectively using
different mechanical technologies) are hereby assessed.
Table 1: Linking theory with practice in a Applied Strength of Materials laboratory
Key theoretical concepts in the
syllabus
Practical experiments in the laboratory
Slope and deflection of beams
1.
Measure the deflections of a cantilever beam and determine the elastic
modulus based on the measured and calculated data
2.
Measure the defle
ction of a simply supported beam and calculate the
radius of curvature
Circumferential and radial stresses in
thick cylinders
3.
Measure the strain in a thick cylinder due to an internal pressure and
determine the corresponding principle stresses.
Buckling of struts
4.
Measure the deflection for various loads and determine the crippling
load for various end conditions
The fourth practical experiment requires students to compare
the results of experimental crippling loads with loads
theoretically predicted by the Euler equations. A relationship
between the experimental crippling loads for the various end
conditions is to be determined and evaluated by the students.
This practical experiment is aimed at enhancing student’s
ability to critically evaluate information regarding a given
problem, and to communicate this problem effectively to
others using mathematical and written communication skills.
CUT student graduate attributes of numeracy, communication
and problem solving is therefore assessed.
IV. METHODOLOGY
An exploratory case study is employed along with descriptive
statistics of the quantitative data. An exploratory case study is
ideal for analysing what is common and different across cases
that share the same key criteria. Furthermore, it is an
appropriate tool to obtain preliminary enquiries [27]. Student
voices regarding the benefits, relevance and practicality of the
practical work done in a laboratory are sought. Descriptive
statistics are used as the results are interpreted with regard to
specific African engineering students enrolled at CUT.
Quantitative analysis is used as it brings a methodical approach
to the decision-making process, given that qualitative factors
such as “gut feel” may make decisions biased and less than
rational [28]. The target population is restricted to African
undergraduate engineering students enrolled for MSK3 at CUT
during 2014 (n = 32). An electronic response system was used
in a classroom environment at the end of the semester to obtain
student perceptions on specific questions relating to the
practical work done in the laboratory. Closed-ended questions,
featuring Likert scales, were used based on previous research
which focused on student perceptions of practical work done in
a laboratory [5, 29, 30].
V. RESULTS AND DISCUSSIONS
The purpose of this paper is to consider undergraduate
engineering student voices regarding practical work done in a
MSK3 laboratory. This is divided into three sections; one
focusing on whether students feel that the practical work was
enjoyable and beneficial (see Figure 1); one focusing on
whether students felt that the practical work was challenging
and relevant (see Figure 2); and one focusing on student
recommendations regarding the practical work (see Figure 3).
The results presented in Figure 1 indicate that 77% (42%
strongly agrees and 35% agrees) of the 32 respondents to the
questionnaire in the MSK3 class really enjoyed the practical
experiments which were done in the laboratory. Although 81%
(53% strongly agrees and 28% agrees) of the respondents agree
that the subject was a valuable learning experience, only 68%
(34% strongly agrees and 34% agrees) would recommend the
subject to other students. 72% (38% strongly agrees and 34%
agrees) of the respondents were convinced that the practical
experiments helped them to apply new knowledge to solve
engineering problems while almost all students were convinced
that the experiments gave them a better understanding of the
theory (48% strongly agree and 34% agree). The last two
responses are especially important as the graduate attribute of
6th African Engineering Education Association Conference, CUT, FS.
102
problem solving and the ability of a student to apply their
theoretical knowledge in practice is highly prioritised by
ECSA.
Figure 2 categorizes three questions which may be linked to
the relevance and difficulty of the practical experiments.
Although 48% of the respondents were of the opinion that the
practical experiments were not too difficult, the majority (16%
strongly agrees and 59% agrees) found it challenging. 96%
(73% strongly agree and 23% agree) of the students agreed that
the practical experiments were indeed relevant to the theory
done in the classroom. Practical work which is relevant to
theory and accessible to students, can go a long way towards
increasing the enjoyment and sense of achievement of students
[33]. It is important for students to 'learn by doing' and it has
been found that active student engagement in authentic
practical work, which is relevant to Industry, benefits student
learning [34]. Subsequently, it may be stated that these results
tend to suggest that the practical experiments promoted student
engagement with the theory
Figure 1: Student voices regarding the benefits of practical work done in the MSK3 laboratory
Figure 2: Student voices regarding the relevance between the practical and theoretical work in MSK3
0%
10%
20%
30%
40%
50%
60%
Did you enjoy the
practical experiments
which were done in the
laboratory?
Would you encourage
other students to register
for the subject which
you selected in this
survey?
Would you agree that
this subject was a
valuable learning
experience?
Did the laboratory
experiments help you to
better understand some
of the theory given in
the classroom?
Did you learn to apply
new knowledge to solve
engineering problems in
the laboratory?
Strongly agree Agree Neither agree or disagree Disagree Strongly disagree
0%
10%
20%
30%
40%
50%
60%
70%
80%
Do you feel that the practical
experiments were relevant to the theory
given in the classroom?
Do you think the practical experiments
were challenging?
Do you think the practical experiments
were too difficult?
Strongly agree Agree Neither agree or disagree Disagree Strongly disagree
6th African Engineering Education Association Conference, CUT, FS.
103
Figure 3: Student recommendations regarding the practical work
From the data presented in Figure 3, it is evident that the
majority of respondents felt that the number of practical
experiments completed in the laboratory were sufficient (37%
disagree and 33% strongly disagree that more practical
experiments should be conducted). More than 40% of the
respondents were of the opinion that more time should not be
spent on doing practical experiments in the laboratory. This is
rather a discrepancy when considering the results of the other
questions. It may be that students feel that the current timetable
which schedules 3 hours per week in the laboratory is
sufficient for them to grasp the link between theory and
practice. Additional research into why students feel this way is
warranted. On the more positive side, 75% of the respondents
prefer group work, as shown by the responses to the question
of working on your own in the laboratory. This may assist
students to develop the important graduate attribute of
teamwork, which is advocated by the International Engineering
Alliance [35] and based on the Washington, Sydney and
Dublin accords.
VI. CONCLUSIONS
The purpose of this paper was to consider student voices
regarding practical instruction offered in an Applied Strength
of Materials laboratory within the Department of Mechanical
and Mechatronics Engineering at a UoT. The specific practical
experiments that are currently undertaken by undergraduate
engineering students in this field of study were outlined and
linked to the specific theoretical sections within the syllabus of
this module.
The results indicate that the majority of students enjoyed the
practical experiments completed in the laboratory, contributing
to student engagement with the course content. The practical
experiments were relevant to the theory and applicable in
encouraging problem solving, communication and teamwork
which are fundamental graduate attributes that engineering
students need to demonstrate. These results suggest that
student satisfaction has been achieved with the practical work
in this module and has led to student engagement as they have
devoted time and energy to this educationally purposeful
activity.
Additionally, important student graduate attributes of
numeracy (calculating specific parameters using predefined
equations), technological literacy (in terms of effectively using
different mechanical technologies) and technical competency
(collecting and organizing technical information) were also
assessed in the laboratory (see Table 1). A total sum of seven
different graduate attributes have been incorporated into the
practical instruction which forms part of this engineering
curriculum, thereby giving Mechanical Engineering students
the opportunity to demonstrate their acquisition. The successful
acquisition or demonstration of these graduate attributes and
the indication of student satisfaction and engagement has the
potential to empower graduates to enter industry with the
ability to contribute to the socio-economic development of
their communities and of South Africa.
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Acknowledgements
The authors would like to acknowledge Mr NP du Toit who
made available the data for the module termed, Applied
Strength of Materials 3, which he has been teaching for many
years at CUT.
... It must though be noted that student perceptions are not the sole provider of information in determining these aspects. However, obtaining student feedback is an inexpensive and relatively easy endeavour and has been used in electronic engineering [19], statistics education [20] and mechanical engineering [21]. ...
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Engineering is different from other fields of study, especially when it comes to practical instruction. Students cannot simply be saturated with theory, without demonstrating the application of theory in practice. Theory and practice must be fused within any engineering curriculum. Theoretical instruction is often conveyed to distance learning students by means of study guides, textbooks, learning management systems and other e-learning strategies. Practical instruction cannot be conveyed in this way, as it requires the physical interaction between students and equipment, often in the presence of a qualified and competent facilitator. At times, open distance learning institutes need to contract external residential universities to provide this interaction by means of practical workshops. The research question is posed: What do student perceptions and the statistical analysis of their final grade results reveal about the quality of teaching at these practical workshops? The purpose of this paper is to evaluate the quality of teaching at one day practical workshops offered at a contracted residential university of technology by using student final grade results and student perceptions. Final grade results obtained by these students in the practical workshops over a seven year period are shown, where its normality is evaluated by using descriptive statistics. Student perceptions reveal that they benefitted from the practical workshops and the majority felt that the facilitators exhibited academic professionalism. Student perceptions and statistical results suggest that the overall quality of teaching at these practical workshops is good!
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The large-scale research program involved the use of a multi-method design that was comprised of two concurrent and interrelated investigations. The first (Part A) investigated the development and validation of the two instruments, one to assess students’ perceptions of the learning environment and another to assess their attitudes and academic self-efficacy beliefs.
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Two main social forces are causing universities in Chile increase their effectiveness in translating market and political signals into actions in order to improve the quality and impact of the engineering education they provide. Since 2000 these forces have been expressed in government policies of programme accreditation and funding. This national context is exemplified through the experience at the University of Santiago of Chile. The expectations of the workplace with regard to the strengths and weaknesses of engineering education have been usually expressed through the desired learning outcomes of the programmes, many of which address attitudes rather than scientific or technological aspects. From this perspective, the actual developments in student feedback, considered as a significant resource for quality improvement, are discussed. Finally, some conclusions about structural factors that, in both the industrial sector and the universities, strengthen the achievement of the necessary consistency between the country's needs and university responses are drawn.
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This chapter draws on the earlier chapters in this book about student feedback in engineering education by several international contributors. It summarises the common themes, trends and issues within the discipline with respect to student feedback. It concludes with some thoughts on the future directions of student feedback within the discipline.
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Formative student feedback is an issue on which researchers have increasingly focused, as both the learning and teaching of a course can be improved during the learning process. However, this type of continuous feedback is still paid less attention and is implemented less widely than are other learning and teaching enhancement methods. Based on a case study of an industrial and product design course in Hong Kong, this chapter first reviews the advantages of summative student feedback and identifies the common problems and limitations it presents. The chapter goes on to underline the importance of implementing a formative student feedback process. While identifying the difficulties inherent in this type of feedback, the chapter also discusses its possibilities, including recent educational changes and social expectations of the role of education.