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J. García-Cañadas, F. Romero-Gavilán

Universitat Jaume I (SPAIN)
Teaching labs are a key experience during the learning process for students in the science and engineering disciplines. There, they are able to prove the different theories taught in the lectures and, moreover, develop skills in an environment which will very likely form part of their working time in their professional life. In the teaching lab practices of our university we frequently find a lack of motivation in the students, which do not really feel attracted by the hands-on tasks or experimental methods. On the other hand, we believe that the use of good practices while working in a lab or workshop environment are not usually addressed along the student degree, which we consider a key learning for a successful development of their professional life.

In order to improve these two aspects we propose here two methodologies to improve both the motivation of the students during the lab sessions, and the learning of good practices in the lab or workshop. The first approach consists in throwing different questions (not more than 3 or 5) to the students along the session, either at the initial part or at moments with low experimental activity. The questions should become a challenge for them and be designed to encourage scientific analysis and discussions. The students can use any of the resources around the lab (books, internet access, other students, etc.) to find the answer. The questions will be solved at the end of the session, in this way the students can be engaged in solving them along the whole duration of the session. Especially at times when they tend to become distracted or bored due to the lack of hands-on activity, the teacher can remind them to work on solving the questions. The reward to successfully answer all the proposed question is an additional 10 % (extra point) over the mark of the session. If only half of the questions are correctly answered, half point will be added, and so on.
To promote good practices, such as cleaning the working areas after completing the tasks, comply with safety regulations, return tools after use to their place, etc., the additional mark resulting from the previous approach will be multiplied by a good practices coefficient, which could only be either 1 or 0. A coefficient of 1 will result if the student has worked during the session following all the good practices. If any of the good practices have not been followed (tool not returned, uncleaned area, damage to equipment, unsafe operation, etc.) the coefficient will become 0 and hence no additional mark will be gained in the session.

The above methodologies have been implemented in the teaching labs of different engineering degrees (chemical engineering, industrial engineering and design engineering). In order to quantify the rate of success of the methodology, different indexes have been defined and analysed. In general, the methods are successful, especially the implementation of good practices. The challenging questions showed however a different degree of success within the different years of the degree, being more successful in the initial years (1st and 2nd year) rather than in the final ones (4th year).