Engineering faculty take time to 'Live with the Lab'

Jul 23, 2009 | General News

Twenty-one engineering faculty members from across the nation visited Louisiana Tech from July 12-15 to learn about Tech’s first-year engineering experience and to brainstorm on the future of engineering education.

The workshop, funded by the National Science Foundation, immersed participants in Louisiana Tech’s special brand of project-centered education, which boosts experiential learning through student ownership of the “laboratory.” The new curriculum, called “Living with the Lab,” allows students to perform laboratory and design activities in their own space and on their own time schedule.

Living With The Lab at Louisiana TechWorkshop participants completed many of the same projects as first-year engineering students while workshop leaders demonstrated how technology, fabrication, software skills, engineering fundamentals, communication skills, and broadening issues can be woven together to create an exciting classroom environment.

The workshop was hosted by faculty at Louisiana Tech who developed the curriculum, including NSF Project Director David Hall, along with Mark Barker, Kelly Crittenden, Stan Cronk, John Easley, Jim Nelson and Mike Swanbom. Jim Nelson, Associate Dean for Undergraduate Studies at Louisiana Tech, says that project-centered learning “allows students to build the critical skills and attitudes that they will need to hit the ground running when starting their engineering careers.”

Based on his experience this week, participant Gerald Recktenwald, Chair of Mechanical and Materials Engineering at Portland State University, concluded that “Living with the Lab uses problem-based pedagogy to motivate, challenge and teach students to be engineers right from the start of their education.”

Bradley Layton, Associate Professor in Mechanical Engineering and Mechanics at Drexel University, commented “The laboratories at Louisiana Tech are enviable. If every first-year curriculum across the country were to have the facilities and talented faculty that first-year students at Louisiana Tech have, we would see the quality of engineering graduates increase nationwide. This is a great example of well-spent NSF funding.”

Workshop participants will be taking what they have learned back to their home institutions to improve their first-year engineering experiences. Hall hopes to see other institutions adopt a similar approach based on student-owned hardware and software. Hall stated that “Putting the ownership and maintenance of the laboratory into the hands of the students motivates student learning and broadens the spectrum of projects that can be tackled, building student confidence, practical skills, and creativity.”

Workshop participant Brent Donham, Head of Industrial Engineering & Technology at Texas A & M University-Commerce, noted that “The Living with the Lab workshop is engaging and challenges engineering educators to rethink the new student or freshmen learning experience.”

Written by Jenna Carpenter and David Hall