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M. Pazos, M.A. Sanroman, M.A. Longo

University of Vigo (SPAIN)
Laboratory courses are usually designed to provide the students with the desired practical abilities in the manipulation of materials, energy or information. Nevertheless, understanding of the learning objectives by the students is not always successfully attained, thus falling in the main objective of the activity. Therefore, adequate tools should be used in order to enhance the effectiveness in laboratory courses. In this paper, the specific case of an environmental engineering course has been considered.
Nowadays, the physical educational laboratories may be replaced or supported by virtual or remote ones. Since traditional laboratory courses are expensive and require complex logistics (i.e. space, staff, scheduling, safety…), web-based platforms appear as an attractive alternative [1-2]. Thus, computerized simulations of actual laboratory experiments can be carried out by the students without time or place restrictions, provided availability of internet access. In some cases, animations, videos and other material related to virtual laboratories can be also handed out to the students.
Concept maps are another useful tool that may be used to improve the understanding by the students of the concepts involved in the practical courses. They are graphical tools for organizing and representing knowledge, which include concepts, usually enclosed in circles or boxes, and relationships between concepts indicated by a connecting line. Their usefulness is generally accepted, both as learning tools and a means to identify weak points in the learning process.
Case studies and discussion, as well as brief writing assignments can also be employed in order to provide the student with additional skills related to the studied topic [3-4]. The utilization of web-based platforms and electronic discussion boards are helpful tools for the exchange of information and opinions.
Finally, especial attention should be paid to the evaluation of the learning process, for which rubric development could be extremely useful [5]. Also, a perception survey to assess how the students rate the efficiency of the process should be carried out.

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