Laboratory Teaching

Learning Through Active Experimentation

The practical, hands-on work of experimentation in laboratories has long been considered central to engineering education. This is where the students get the chance to experiment and make connections between theory and practice. However, there are some challenges to teaching in the laboratory.

Firstly, a lot of laboratory teaching is carried out very similarly to classes 20, 40, or 60 years ago. Students perform set experiments from a cookbook and write a short report on their findings. If they get the “wrong” findings they can copy the “right” from a peer or the teacher before doing the report. However, what the students learn from this is mostly to follow a cookbook and write a report, and not to experiment on their own. Thus, the link between the theory and the experiments is often not clear to the students.

Secondly, with the increasing intake of students to the university and classes growing in numbers, there are often practical issues making it difficult for students to get sufficient time in the lab and for teachers to guide and give feedback to every student in the lab.

How To Implement Effective Lab Teaching

Teachers at DTU Systems Biology have addressed these problems by re-designing their course (Martinusen & Kilstrup 2014). Here are some suggestions from their experience:

  • Describe all theoretical background behind the scientific investigation and all its ingoing experiments in a compendium, and revise continuously 
  • Have the students fill out a flow diagram of the experiments and do not allow students in the lab before they can explain the experiments and their significance in relation to the overall investigation to a teacher 
  • Make videos of all the difficult experimental procedures, including explanations and emphasis on possible pitfalls 
  • Let the students write their results from the experiments in a manuscript, following the guidelines of an international journal 
  • Have students perform and receive guided peer reviews (in teams) and evaluate and grade according to the quality of the final manuscript after two peer review cycles 

Another approach is to use a virtual laboratory to train the students before and after they attend the on-site laboratory class. The laboratories can be 3D worlds or they can be more abstract representations. For example, DNA sequencing can be illustrated as both a laboratory exercise with pipettes and real world actions, or as 'simulations' of the molecular processes - or a combination of both methods. 

Supporting Laboratory Teaching with Learning Technology

  • Video consultants - can assist you in recording videos in the lab
  • Virtual labs - allow students to do experiments that they would otherwise not have possibility of doing

Reading & References

Laboratory Teaching