LABORATORY INTEGRATION INTO THE LECTURES
One of the key courses in the chemical engineering degree is the unit operations course. This subject is composed of both theoretical activities (based on lectures, seminars and tutoring sessions) and practical activities (Laboratory sessions).
Traditionally, each laboratory session was dedicated to one of the main objectives of the course and it took about 5 hours. Taking into account the length of one of the laboratory session and the number of sessions needed to teach the main objectives proposed (5) the total length of the laboratory was 25 hours. These 25 hours were traditionally taught intensively during the mornings of one week (from Monday to Friday). This timetable produced several inconveniences for the students, affecting both the benefits obtained from the laboratory sessions and from the other subjects. Due to the inconveniences generated, it was interesting to study other alternatives to teach the laboratory sessions. The main objectives of these alternatives should be to enhance the benefits obtained from the laboratory sessions at the same time that the functioning of the course were not affected.
In order to define the new alternative, the traditional scheme followed to teach the laboratory was studied and the failures in this scheme were identified in order to solve them. The new scheme developed was based, among others, on the following statements:
• The laboratory sessions were distributed along the course, avoiding the accumulation of laboratory sessions. Each practise was carried out once the corresponding theory (lecture) was taught.
• The time dedicated to each practise was distributed into several tasks. Each practise consist on a seminar where the theory was passed by again and the set-up to be used was described (length 0.5 h), the practical session (2.5 h) and a tutory session (15 min.).
• In order to optimise the benefits of using the new scheme the task were distributed in the following form: On Friday the seminar was taught in groups of about 30 students. Along the following week the practical session was carried out by the groups of students. Once finished the practical session the students were call in small groups to attend to the tutory.
Before the application of the proposed scheme its feasibility was evaluated. The verification of the feasibility is very important, because the availability of the teachers is restricted by economical and scientific aspects and the availability of the students is restricted by the work load and the time available in the timetables. This evaluation showed that with the new scheme the time dedicated by the teachers was about a 13% lower than that required when using the traditional system, in the case of the students the time dedicated with the new scheme was about a 30% lower than that required when using the traditional system. These results are interesting, but to decide if the system means an advance in the course functioning the marks obtained by the students should be studied. After the analysis, it was observed that the students doing the laboratory according to the new scheme got better marks than that doing the laboratory according to the old scheme. When the new scheme was used the average mark was increased in about a 10% and the percentage of students getting marks over 6 points was increased. Moreover, the satisfaction of the students with the new laboratory scheme was higher than that corresponding to the former scheme.