THE ROLE OF THE LAB TUTOR: A POSITIVE EXPERIENCE IN THE PHYSICS LABORATORY FOR INCOMING STUDENTS IN 1ST YEAR COURSES
This work is part of a study which main aim is to gain knowledge about students’ learning in a physics laboratory where we strive to use effective, interactive learning techniques to engage students in Physics. The present work was carried out during three consecutive academic years with students in their first year of Industrial Engineering degree (University of Malaga) and is based on the lab tutor role for helping students during the laboratory sessions scheduled for the Physics II subject. This subject covers the fundamental principles of Electromagnetism and gives the student the basic skills required for more advanced Engineering studies. Laboratory experiences are integrated throughout the course and help to solidify concepts from the class lectures; in other cases, it supplements concepts or introduce new ones that cannot be developed in the classroom.
There are four 1.5-hour scheduled laboratory sessions and all students are required to attend them during the semester. On average, there are 25 students per laboratory group. The main purposes of these practical lessons are: learning scientific knowledge and concepts, practical skills and techniques related to the discipline, and working cooperatively. The experiments in the Lab are designed to be performed by small groups of three (sometimes four) students. Working teams are strongly encouraged to develop a good working relationship with their lab partners and after each experiment, a report is submitted by each working group for grading. Writing the report helps the students to think about their laboratory experience and to draw conclusions from experimental observations.
First year students tend to be particularly difficult to teach and the lack of experience in practical work and problem solving and a lack of mathematical skills are the greatest cause of difficulty for incoming students. This study highlights the importance of training tutors for the laboratory sessions to effectively deal with this unique cohort.
The purpose of the lab tutors is to give students additional support and to help working teams in acquiring good experimental skills while the experiment is being conducted. The first laboratory session is devoted to learn how to operate a variety of meters and instruments, become familiar the equipment and be sure that all students know how to handle and take care of the equipment they will be using, for example learning how to build circuits properly. In this sense, the input of lab tutors plays a significant role in successful implementation of the laboratory time and thanks to their support, the students maximize their learning. Lab tutors free us up in order to spend more time with our students, and during this time we will be dealing with them individually, allowing us to concentrate effectively on particular misunderstandings and to monitor the progress of the various working groups.
Taking into account the survey results we have collected on the students’ perception of the value of laboratory work and the role of the lab tutor, we can conclude that the proposed activity was well received by the students and it has proved to be a valuable experience for both tutor and tutee. Furthermore, the lab tutoring approach can be implemented with a minimal financial cost or staff time, except for the initial training of the tutors.