Mechanical Engineering/College of Engineering
Quality Control of TA-led Instruction
Faculty Mentor: Rob Stoll - Mechanical Engineering/College of Engineering
The lab experience often varies from student to student in curriculum exposure, assignment feedback, and applicability of lab experiments to the overall course. This variability stems from logistic requirements such as assigning multiple TAs to a course laboratory and required maintenance of laboratory equipment. Is the variability in lab experience from student to student significant in successfully meeting course objectives? Can it be linked to the effectiveness of the course or lab itself? A systematic method of conducting lab sessions will be developed and implemented such that student exposure to curriculum be monitored and controlled from lab session to lab session. The goal of this project will be to determine whether the variability in non-controlled labs results in a significant deviation in class grade distribution from the controlled sessions. Not only would this investigation have implications reaching across campus but possibly in other formats including TA-led discussion sections and course projects.
Using the quality control process of the manufacturing industry as a model, a system will be introduced in a mechanical engineering undergraduate lab. This process will maintain uniformity in the grading of lab assignments, the curriculum discussed in lab, the functionality of lab equipment, and the knowledge base and teaching ability of TAs from lab session to lab session. Hypothetically, the implementation of a control process in a course's lab section would result in a different class mean and distribution of both the lab grades and the course grades than that of semesters which did not utilize this process. A comparison of the course and lab grade distributions of the uncontrolled semesters versus the controlled semester will be undertaken. This universal process will include developing concept-based curriculum, procedural checklists, and grading rubrics for each lab. More significantly, a self-administering TA training protocol will be developed based on the curriculum itself as well as teaching methodologies focused on concept reinforcement and concept applicability. The end product of this investigation would be a manual describing how to implement the developed process into a generic TA-led laboratory or discussion section as well as an assessment of the effectiveness of the process. It is conceivable that this quality control process could be applied to discussion sections attached to core undergraduate classes taught at the University.
The results of this investigation will include the framework to enhance the quality of instruction for laboratory course and a method to achieve uniformity in common lab elements such as curriculum and assignments. The description of the control process would also provide a skeletal structure on which to build a laboratory or discussion curriculum. Furthermore, the laboratory control process will assist in identifying successful TA instruction practices and curricula thereby improving the effectiveness of such instruction. Standardizing lab curriculum and lab assignment grading will reduce lab preparation and assignment grading-time, eliminating redundancies and semester-to-semester inefficiencies in laboratory courses. However, a single semester will not yield enough data to statistically determine whether the variability in labs is a significant source of error to course evaluation. Yet, the long-term results have the possible impact on budgeting resources for both labs and lab containing courses.