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We are running a hands-on laboratory that is part of a larger electric circuits course. I've been doing a review of our lab manuals and am realizing that there is a large discrepancy between what we are asking students to submit about the lab and what we hope they will learn in the lab.

For example, one of the key skills we want the students to gain in lab 1 is to be able to look at a circuit diagram, identify the physical components on their bench that correspond to the symbols in the diagram, and appropriately wire up the circuit. In the lab manual, we just ask them "what is the voltage across X?" The problem there is that whether it takes them an hour or a minute, or whether a TA gave them excessive help or they did it on their own, is not captured at all in the evaluation. However, asking them to describe their process or something like that often results in vague answers that aren't much help.

It seems to me that we need a way to evaluate the skills as much as the end result. What are some strategies for doing such an evaluation?

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    How involved are TAs in this? If they sit with the students for all or most of the time, they should have a good insight on which students needed more help, which maybe helped others, which were slow or fast (and how good their results were relative to that) and so on. When we teach practical courses, it is for example also taken into account how they treat problems (asking for help too early, trying for a while then asking, never asking but spending a lot of time on trying,..) and similar stuff. – skymningen Jan 25 '18 at 14:31
  • Typically, activities like wiring up a circuit are for the student's benefit, to help them see / feel / touch physically that which is otherwise analyzed on paper. – Mad Jack Jan 25 '18 at 15:20
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Have the students evaluate each other's work

This is focused on the specific example you gave of identifying components in a circuit, but I believe the same applies to most scenarios.

The problem as I understand, is that you are giving them tasks for creating circuits - but without a way of evaluating that they really understood what they did, other than whether the circuit works or not.

One option would be to create a number of circuits and have students draw up circuit diagrams based on what they physically see. While this would allow you to see how well they can identify the components - it will be an enormous amount of preparation for you.

Instead, I'd suggest you have the students make the circuits in one lab lesson. This gives them the initial opportunity to learn how to convert the diagrams into a working circuit and get a physical idea of how the components look and interact.

After this, redistribute all of the circuits to other students and have them evaluate their given circuit. This can include drawing up a circuit diagram as well as evaluating any problems they've found in the circuit or changes that should have been made.

Ideally, you will be able to provide a selection of different circuits diagrams initially, so everybody will be creating something different from what they end up evaluating (e.g. ensure everybody who made circuit "A" evaluates a circuit "C" etc.)

As the circuits will be varying quality, it obviously would not be fair to use this for grading. But it will allow you to evaluate how well they are achieving the outcomes you set, in general. It will also push them to think more about what they are doing (i.e. avoiding pure memorisation) as they are being given potentially badly-made and faulty circuits by their peers.

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