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Improving science education in Europe - Survey: 'Teachers' objectives for labwork'

This survey was designed to investigate the learning objectives identified by teachers as important for labwork, with particular reference upon any differences in objectives between disciplines, countries or levels.

In order to identify the learning objectives actually considered important by teachers, a three stage methodology was used. In the first instance, a sample of teachers (n=60) were asked open-ended questions about the learning objectives that they saw as important for labwork. Second, data categories of objectives were abstracted from these responses and compared with categories reported in the literature. Third, these categories were formulated as a number of closed-response statements to be ranked and rated by a larger sample of teachers. Findings from the survey address the main objectives identified by teachers as important for labwork, and the relative effectiveness of different types of labwork at reaching those objectives.

Teachers were presented with five overall objectives for labwork. These were:
- To link theory to practice;
- Learning experimental skills;
- Getting to know the methods of scientific thinking;
- Fostering motivation, personal development and social competency;
- Evaluating the knowledge of students.

These had to be ranked in order from most important to least important by the teachers. More than 40% of the teachers surveyed identified the main objective of labwork as being ‘to link theory to practice’. This objective was rated higher by physics teachers than by teachers of biology and chemistry. The objectives of ‘learning experimental skills’ and ‘getting to know the methods of scientific thinking’ were also rated highly. The objective ‘learning experimental skills’ was rated more highly by university teachers than by upper secondary teachers. The objective ‘getting to know the methods of scientific thinking’ was rated more highly by biology teachers than by teachers of chemistry and physics. ‘Fostering motivation, personal development and social competency’ and ‘evaluating the knowledge of students’ were rated low. Differences between country samples show only minor differences, e.g. in the French sample ‘to develop scientific thinking’ shows the highest average rank value.

Five organisational patterns for labwork were presented to teachers. These were:
- Experiments carried out by the students;
- Open ended labwork;
- Using modern technologies;
- Strongly guided experiments;
- Demonstration experiments.

Teachers were asked to rank each type of labwork according to how useful it was at promoting the learning objectives listed above. It was apparent that ‘experiments carried out by the students’ were seen as overwhelmingly useful for promoting all learning objectives of labwork. Open-ended labwork was also viewed as useful, though less so for the learning objectives of ‘linking theory and practice’ and ‘learning experimental skills’. Experiments using modern technologies and strongly guided labwork were all seen as useful for promoting all learning objectives, though both types were not seen as particularly effective at motivating students or evaluating students’ knowledge. Demonstration experiments were viewed as being not particularly effective at motivating students and evaluating their understanding, but more useful for ‘linking theory and practice’.

Overall, the results from this survey are important as a frame for possible objectives of labwork, focusing on those objectives, which are ranked as particularly important by teachers. Possible future work involves comparing findings from this study about the objectives that teachers see as important for labwork, with findings from case study work about the effectiveness of labwork at promoting students’ learning.

Reported by

Universite de Paris-Sud XI
Rue Georges Clemenceau
91405 Orsay
France
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