Laboratory sections are at the core of undergraduate STEM education as they grant students the ability to observe how the physical world compares to the concepts taught in the classroom. In the context of engineering (as an applied science field), focus on the application of concepts in an educational setting is especially crucial towards proper career development; however, the biological engineering (BE) education community faces a multitude of barriers towards implementing hands-on lab sections.
The main challenge for BE educators is that BE is a relatively new and broad discipline that integrates a diverse array of knowledge from the basic sciences and engineering sciences towards application in the biological and medicinal fields. Due to variety of possible career outcomes and limited department resources (money, laboratory space, etc.), it is not possible to create a single undergraduate curriculum that will cover all of the technical skills spanning the entire BE field in a hands-on setting. As laboratory sections have been shown to provide a variety of educational benefits, it is imperative that university engineering departments seek alternative methods to deliver real-life application of classroom concepts.
As such, interest in the development and usage of simulated lab sections has risen. While these lab experiences offer economic benefits to educational institutions and are more convenient for students to access, the exact educational outcomes of simulated labs, especially when compared to traditional hands-on labs, is still unclear. Due to the previously stated challenges, the BE education community could benefit greatly by the implementation of simulated labs; however, there is a limited amount of literature on simulated labs in the context of BE.
It is warranted to study how BE engineering students interact with simulated labs as BE students have been found to have different motivations for entering the engineering field when compared to traditional engineering (TE) disciplines (such as civil, mechanical or electrical). Therefore, it is paramount that the BE engineering education community capitalizes on these differences in motivation in order to address the systemically lackluster engineering student retention rate. BE students are largely driven to the field for the opportunity to benefit society, which differs compared to TE majors who cited their love of designing and building. Therefore, these unique motivational differences of BE students compared to TE students needs to be separately studied, as previous motivational studies in a TE setting may not be applicable to BE students.
Therefore, the purpose of this study is to provide a case study on how the implementation of a commercially available simulated lab alters the motivation of students in a BE course. Collection of data will help us answer three key research questions: 1) How well does the simulated lab intervention work? 2) How do BE students experience disciplinary-specific simulated labs? 3) How do those experiences inform us on the student motivation? By utilizing the MUSIC® Model of Academic Motivation, we aim to pin down the social realities surrounding simulated BE labs, clarify the unique motivations of BE students, and provide vital information for the national discourse of proper BE curricula development.
Data analysis will follow a case study and narrative analysis approach to develop a theory on how the implementation of simulated labs affects the motivation of BE students. The case study approach to analysis will allow us to accurately assess the efficacy of the lab intervention and identify what factors of motivation are at play during the lab intervention; whereas the narrative analysis approach will be used to contextualize student experience with the lab intervention. This combined approach will ensure that no assumptions are made in regards to the data collected, and that the social realities surround BE simulated labs are accurately described.
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