Acknowledgement: Information in this section of the Toolkit has been adapted with permission from the Certificate in Learning and Teaching (CiLT).
Laboratory classes are the bedrock for degrees in science, engineering and medicine. They help students develop their ability to work at higher levels of learning and build the necessary skills to solve problems. The lab environment also allows students to make connections between what they have learnt previously and apply the theories and principles of their discipline while using more technical skills.
The aim of lab work is to move beyond learning material for the sake of assessment but to encourage students’ interest in their topic and to be active in their learning and of course to develop lab skills. In other words, you are helping the student move into the realms of deep learning rather than surface learning. As a teacher, you can further encourage students to integrate their learning with other aspects of their studies.
For more information on the differences between the critical examination of facts and ideas of deep learning and the rote learning associated with surface learning, see the Higher Education Academy’s article compiled from Biggs (1999), Entwistle (1988) and Ramsden (1992).
Hints and tips
- Ask questions that open up a subject, or other possibilities;
- Use the lab to explicitly build on current knowledge and lead the learner through a chain of reasoning;
- Be approachable – friendly, available, equitable and helpful – especially to those students who are new to working in a lab environment, e.g. Level 1 students;
- Be proactive as well as reactive – recognise those having difficulties. Encourage active participation by students and counter any “freeloaders”;
- Draw comparisons and parallels between laboratory work and professional practice.
Checking on the progress of students is essential due to health and safety considerations in the lab environment. Furthermore with safety as a primary concern, while in some teaching situations less is considered more, the need to intervene is increased by the nature of the equipment that is used in the lab setting.
- Make sure everyone is clear on their roles in the lab environment: course leader, lab demonstrator, technician and students;
- Clarify safety requirements and procedures and make sure there are no equipment issues;
- Explain any feedback required from lab demonstrators if involved in assessing students’ work.
The Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering has implemented a new lab report system which is quicker and more transparent. Students know at all times where their lab report is in the system and when feedback is due.
Enabling students to find experiments fun and just a little bit addictive...
Presentation by Professor Liz Smythe (Biomedical Science) at the 5th Annual Learning and Teaching Conference 2011
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