Laboratory Teaching

Laboratory teaching sessions are commonly used in the traditional science-based labs, but they are also often used in other areas such as computing, medicine, engineering and design.

What are the benefits?

Lab sessions are intended to provide students with

  • opportunities to explore the practical implications of their discipline in a "safe" environment, and
  • an initiation into the rules and practice of and research in the discipline.

Any Small Group teaching strategies can be used in the laboratory, but since the laboratory or demonstration time is limited, laboratories should be used to engage in the activities that are not possible in other learning environments.

Specifically, students attend lab sessions in order to:

  • explore their knowledge, comprehension and conceptual understanding of a subject
  • become "socialised" into the culture of a discipline (e.g. understand the process of scientific enquiry involving ideas such as observing and measuring, problem solving, interpreting data, and applying knowledge and methods)
  • develop manual skills (such as correct procedures for "aseptic technique" or applying a sterile dressing in nursing)
  • learn how to communicate in the language of the discipline.

What are the challenges?

Orientation to the rules, occupational health and safety procedures and layout of your lab is essential for you and your students.

Often, you will not have designed the experiments or activities conducted in labs and so you can be uncertain about the aims of experiments or activities. Clear understanding of how the experiments fit into the curriculum is essential. This can be achieved through communication with other staff and demonstrators in the course or program team.

How can I teach effectively?

Align laboratory activities with the rest of the curriculum

Activity in laboratory classes should reflect the goals for student learning in the other classes within a course or a program. Most likely your laboratory will aim to develop some specific practical skills to complement more theoretical aspects of the course addressed in Lectures or Tutorials.

Interact with students during labs

  • Circulate among students during the laboratory so that you are able to answer questions or give assistance.
  • Don't spend too long assisting one student.
  • If students look lost, don't wait for them to ask for help. Ask "What stage are you at?" or "How is it going?" to give them an opportunity to ask questions.
  • Don't intimidate students by hovering over them.
  • If you don't know the answer to a student's question, admit it and then try to find the answer by consulting a colleague or textbook.
  • Show your students respect and cooperation.

Further resources