Servicio de Información Comunitario sobre Investigación y Desarrollo - CORDIS

Improving science education in Europe - Survey: 'Current labwork practices'

The aim of this survey was to present an overview of labwork practice in the participating countries. To this end, the study addressed three issues:
- The organisation of science teaching at the upper secondary and university levels. Data source: existing documentary information in each participating country.

- Teachers’ practices in terms of labwork at an organisational level (time spent etc.). Data source: survey of teachers’ responses (n=397).

- More specific aspects of teachers’ practice (such as the sorts of activities used). Data source: analysis of labwork sheets (n=180) using the ‘Map of the variety of labwork’.

Considerable diversity in the organisation of science teaching for students in academic science streams at the upper secondary and university levels was noted. In some countries (notably France) a whole curriculum orientation is selected by students for study at upper secondary school (e.g. sciences, arts) whereas in other countries (notably Great Britain) students have considerable autonomy in selecting individual subjects. Another key variable between countries is the extent to which the upper secondary science curriculum is subject to central control. In some countries (e.g. Denmark, Greece and France) time allocations and assessment structures for each subject are specified centrally, whereas in others (e.g. Germany, Great Britain, Italy and Spain) control is more local. In terms of the amount of labwork practised, there were three main groups of countries. In Denmark, Great Britain and France labwork is regularly performed by upper secondary students, in Germany the situation is dependent upon the wishes of individual teachers, and in Italy and Greece labwork is rarely performed by upper secondary students in academic streams. However, the use of demonstrations by teachers is common in all countries.

At the university level, labwork is commonly used in all countries and for all disciplines. At both secondary school level (if labwork is done) and university level, the type of labwork used vary little between countries or disciplines. By far the most common pattern of organisation is for small groups of students to work with real objects/materials following very precise instructions about methods and analysis given by a teacher or a written source (referred to as a ‘labwork sheet’). The use of open-ended project work is rare, particularly during the first two years of undergraduate study. Labwork is mainly assessed by grading reports from labwork according to the quality of students’ descriptions of the way in which tasks were performed, data acquisition, discussion of the quality of data and interpretation of experimental results.

There is some difference in the extent to which labwork is linked to lecture courses. At upper secondary school level, labwork and lectures are typically more closely linked than at university level. At the university level there were very minor national variations in links between labwork and lectures, links being closer in Italy, Greece and Denmark than in Great Britain, France and Germany.

Labwork sheets from several European countries were selected by the participating research groups as typical of the labwork normally carried out (n=175). The results of their analysis using ‘The map of the variety of labwork’ are striking not only from the point of view of what the students have to do but also from what they do not have to do. At upper secondary school, the students normally have to use standard procedures, to measure, and to report observations directly. They do not have to present or display or make objects. They do not have to explore relationships between objects, to test predictions, to select between two or more explanations and so on. Even at university, it is rare for students to have to test a prediction made from a guess or a theory or to account for observations in terms of a law or theory, although sometimes in physics students are asked to test a prediction made from a law). In effect, the similarities both between disciplines and countries in terms of typical labwork is more than might be expected, given the differences in educational systems in each country. Typical labwork apparently involves a few similar types of activities.


Marie-Genevieve SERE
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