Providing learning objectives to students is a best practice in any educational setting. Their use makes engineering laboratories even more effective by allowing an instructor to differentiate between writing objectives and technical objectives. Thus, it is clear to the student that writing is as much a priority as disciplinary learning. The following writing learning objectives are used universally in this resource and are consistent with the Student's Guide to Engineering Lab Writing. The technical learning objectives provided here are intended to be useful examples, but your own objectives will depend on you, your students, and the nature of your topic.
Lab Writing Learning Objectives
Consider which of the following lab report writing learning objectives you will focus on in each lab over the course of the academic term. A best practice is to start with format (outcome 8) and focus on two additional objectives in subsequent labs so that the expectation in later labs is that all objectives are demonstrated in a complete report. You can also tell students that they should consider just how great they are by using the mnemonic “I’m rad, see!” or IMRADC.
Introduction: Address technical audience expectations by providing the purpose, context, and background information, incorporating secondary sources as appropriate.
Methods: Present experimentation processes accurately and concisely.
Results: Illustrate lab data using the appropriate graphic/table forms.
Analysis: Analyze lab data using appropriate methods (statistical, comparative, uncertainty, etc.).
Discussion: Interpret lab data using factual and quantitative evidence (primary and/or secondary sources).
Conclusion: Provide an effective conclusion that summarizes the laboratory’s purpose, process, and key findings, and makes appropriate recommendations.
Reasoning: Develop ideas using effective reasoning and productive patterns of organization (claim-evidence-reasoning, cause-effect, compare-contrast, etc.).
Format: Demonstrate appropriate genre conventions, including organizational structure and format (i.e., introduction, body, conclusion, appendix, etc.).
Conventions: Establish solid and consistent control of conventions for a technical audience (grammar, tone, mechanics, citation style, etc.).
For example, the following treatment of learning objectives follows a scaffolded approach and might be effective:
Lab 1: Format, Introduction, Methods, Results
Lab 2: Analysis, Discussion
Lab 3: Conclusion, Reasoning
Lab 4: Conventions
Lab 5 and beyond: All objectives
Some laboratory instructors who don't intend to develop whole-report writing skills can still be RAD! Just use the results, analysis, and discussion materials in the Student's Guide.
Technical Learning Objectives
Develop the technical learning objectives for the laboratory. The options below are intended to be general to most early engineering laboratory courses and involve procedures, statistics, plotting, data analysis methods, and consideration of error and uncertainty.
Interpret ASTM or other provided technical procedures and conduct a laboratory experiment accordingly.
Measure quantities with consideration of precision and relevant units.
Calculate important statistics for univariate data including mean, median, mode, standard deviation, variance, and other appropriate statistical measures.
Present univariate data visually using a histogram.
Plot bivariate data on Cartesian axes.
Conduct regression on bivariate data to determine a trend, a least-squares fit, and coefficient of determination (R 2 ).
Differentiate and evaluate systematic and random error.
Evaluate the relevance of sources of error by considering the precision of input quantities.
Apply a trendline and use it to interpolate or extrapolate the physical response of a system.
Discuss the quality of measurements.
The Fundamental Objectives of Engineering Instructional Laboratories (Fiesel & Rosa, 2005)
All objectives start with the following: “By completing the laboratories in the engineering undergraduate curriculum, you will be able to….”
Objective 1: Instrumentation. Apply appropriate sensors, instrumentation, and/or software tools to make measurements of physical quantities.
Objective 2: Models. Identify the strengths and limitations of theoretical models as predictors of real-world behaviors. 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.
Objective 3: Experiment. 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.
Objective 4: Data Analysis. 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.
Objective 5: Design. 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.
Objective 6: Learn from Failure. Identify unsuccessful outcomes due to faulty equipment, parts, code, construction, process, or design, and then re-engineer effective solutions.
Objective 7: Creativity. Demonstrate appropriate levels of independent thought, creativity, and capability in real-world problem solving.
Objective 8: Psychomotor. Demonstrate competence in selection, modification, and operation of appropriate engineering tools and resources.
Objective 9: Safety. Identify health, safety, and environmental issues related to technological processes and activities, and deal with them responsibly.
Objective 10: Communication. Communicate effectively about laboratory work with a specific audience, both orally and in writing, at levels ranging from executive summaries to comprehensive technical reports.
Objective 11: Teamwork. 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.
Objective 12: Ethics in the Laboratory. Behave with highest ethical standards, including reporting information objectively and interacting with integrity.
Objective 13: Sensory Awareness. Use the human senses to gather information and to make sound engineering judgments in formulating conclusions about real-world problems.
Writing Your Own Learning Objectives Using Bloom's Taxonomy
Many resources are available to support instructors new to writing learning objectives. Rather than reiterate them here, the interested instructor is encouraged to visit this resource at Iowa State University.