In a laboratory, the students have a unique opportunity to learn some skills which are difficult to learn through other types of teaching. These may be practical skills such as handling equipment and materials, observing and collecting data, acquiring scientific skills such a critical thinking, designing experiments, analysing and interpreting data, and collaboration skills and academic writing.
Making these learning opportunities available does not imply, however, that learning occurs automatically. As a teacher, you must help your students in the process. This is because the decisive factor for learning in the laboratory is the thoughts and reflections of the students while involved in the experimental activities.
It is therefore essential to plan learning activities that support the students’ way of thinking both before, during and after their involvement in hands-on activities.
Traditional laboratory teaching typically includes:
Often, the teacher, and perhaps even the students, will know the result of the experiment in advance. This type of instruction leaves the students with no or very little influence on the subject and method of their examination.
As a teacher you are recommended to give more influence to the students. All things being equal, this will increase their learning outcome because they will then need to consider the purpose, hypotheses and experiment design and to relate these aspects to the scientific concepts. In other words, you may organise your teaching in a way that encourages the students to use and reflect on academic concepts and knowledge, even before they need to write a report about their experimental work. By planning learning activities both before and during the students’ time in the laboratory, you give the students an opportunity to reflect thoroughly on and discuss concepts and challenges with you as their teacher and with their fellow students.
The students’ outcome of the laboratory teaching will increase even more if you give them the opportunity to: