Institute of Teaching and Learning

Professional Development for Teaching and Learning

Topic 4: Aims of practical classes

Most units at Deakin have had to reduce the amount of time students spend doing practical activities in the laboratory so it is vital that students, staff and those managing school budgets see the relevance as well as the worth of practical activities.

Key learning aims in practicals

These aims taken together help students to appreciate both the method of scientific enquiry and the professional attitudes of the discipline. While not all practical classes will cover the full set of aims, through the semester the practical program should cover a range of learning aims, such as:

  • Consolidation and application of knowledge being presented in lectures.
  • Introduction of discipline specific methods and procedures.
  • Developing a range of skills such as measurement, observation, classifying data, explaining results & predicting responses, and presenting work in a written practical report.
  • Developing specific technical skills.
  • Enhancing problem solving skills including problem formulation as well as analysis.
  • Gaining an understanding of experimental error: that results will not be perfect, and that experimental testing and measurement may involve many repetitions.
  • Promoting teamwork skills
  • Increasing motivation
  • Developing communication skills (verbal and written, especially scientific writing)

(modified from Allison, 1995)

Make sure you are quite clear of the learning objectives of each practical activity before you enter the lab to take a class so that you can spell them out to students. If both you and the students are clear on what is to be achieved in the session then you can not only plan activities appropriately but finish the class with a sense of a job well done.

You may also need to brush up on theory relevant to the practical to give you depth of understanding. If you have this, you are more likely to get through? to the students.

 Activity: Aims and learning objectives

Find two different practical activities in the lab manual for your unit. Read through the aims or objectives for each and consider how you might be able to facilitate students achieving these.

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6th December 2010