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Teaching in laboratories


By offering clear and structured instructions and activities, you as a teacher can make sure that your students achieve a maximum outcome from the special learning environment and learning opportunities of laboratory teaching. ‘Laboratory teaching’ can take place as lecturing and group work in the laboratory, as open laboratory, where the students themselves organise the work, or as research experiments, to which the students are invited into the research laboratory as part of their teaching activities.


Opportunities in laboratory teaching

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.

Scientific skills in the laboratory

Traditional laboratory teaching typically includes:

  1. a preceding lecture that introduces the theory related to the experiment
  2. a detailed “cookbook” manual, which the students must follow step by step
  3. a final report, which the students must submit.

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.

Optimise the outcome of laboratory teaching

The students’ outcome of the laboratory teaching will increase even more if you give them the opportunity to:

  • explain their understanding of the experiment and how it relates to the theory
  • put forward hypotheses and predictions regarding the results of the experiment
  • plan how to conduct the experiment
  • discuss data and results
  • test and discuss the use of different methods and equipment
  • receive feedback on their scientific skills in relation to the learning objectives


Teachers should ask themselves the following questions:

  • How can I support my students’ preparation before the laboratory teaching?

  • How can I support my students’ active learning in the laboratory?

  • How can I support my students’ learning while working on a report?



Please contact the editors at AU Educate if you have any questions about the content of the platform or if you need consultation on your teaching from one of the many skilled professionals at the Centre for Educational Development

The content of this page was prepared on the basis of contributions by Rikke Frøhlich Hougaard & Birgitte Lund Nielsen in Introduction to Teaching and Learning.