The design of learning activities in a lab setting depends on you, your students, the topic, the learning objectives, the equipment available, teaching assistant availability, and institutional support. Thus, the general guidance provided here may serve as a guide, but it will require the context of your environment and your own creativity. This page is intended to provide ideas to encourage creativity in lab activity design rather than serve as a comprehensive guide.
Develop the outline and details of the lecture-lab experience. Activities in a laboratory are generally organized in the following way with considerable room for creativity regarding when and how students engage with the material:
1. Introduction to topic and outline of activities
3. Analysis and discussion of results based on technical learning objectives
4. Laboratory report writing instruction based on writing learning objectives
5. Summary of expectations for written laboratory submission
A Model Instructional Strategy has been promoted for many years in the Excellence in Civil Engineering Education workshops by the American Society of Civil Engineers. It offers the following prompts, which form the basis for effective instruction in general. These prompts can also guide the delivery of a laboratory experience:
Provide an orientation
Why is this important?
How does it relate to prior knowledge?
Provide learning objectives
Provide opportunities to apply knowledge in familiar contexts
Provide opportunities to apply knowledge in unfamiliar contexts
Assess the learners' performance and provide feedback
Provide opportunities for self-assessment
This approach is used in the example on the Home page.
The learning activities in a laboratory tend to offer the use of dedicated equipment, materials, or experiences that students otherwise do not have access to. Some options for structuring a laboratory lesson are provided here.
A particular approach will respond to the following questions
How will I arrange in-lab and out-of-lab content?
Will the lab involve chemical, material, hardware, software, lab-specific, or field-based equipment?
How will I integrate web-based or hardcopy tools and resources?
Provide a board- or slide-based introductory lecture on the technical content and then conduct the lab.
Handout-Driven Lab Activity
Provide all instruction and guidance in the form of a handout that allows students to be self-directed. Traditional lab manuals may fall into this category.
Provide preliminary technical or writing instruction in a video to be viewed prior to the laboratory. Experimentation and discussion can occur during the lab meeting.
Field trip or visit to a location outside of a dedicated classroom or laboratory. These labs can provide access to experiences that compliment classroom instruction and provide exposure to facilities normally not available to students.
Labs that involve software instruction often take place in a computer lab. Computer-based modeling or purely virtual experimentation can occur using a computer alone.
Integrating writing meaningfully into a laboratory course requires careful planning. Activities to support writing learning objectives can be arranged in numerous ways and can take considerable time during a lab period. Or activities can be integrated simply but effectively into established laboratory courses that did not previously incorporate writing instruction.
This section will address both of these situations
RAD Conclusions Lab
Labs that focus on technical content, but can benefit from students learning more about how to present results, analyze results, discuss sources of error and quality of results, and draw meaningful conclusions.
Analyze and plot the resulting data
Describe the trends you observe and discuss sources of error
State and qualify the conclusions you can draw from this laboratory
Resources for use with Students
The Student's Guide to Engineering Lab Writing provides resources that students can use to learn about writing organization (format, reasoning, conventions), details about the various sections of a lab report document, and guidance in analysis methods common in engineering lab settings.
As an instructor, you can also provide students with
Report templates with content prompts
Powerpoint presentations of this content for teaching report writing
Many of these tools are included in the Student's Guide. They are available as easily adoptable Google Docs that you can modify to suit your specific laboratory.