APPLICATION OF CONCEPTUAL MAPS TO LABORATORY COURSES IN ENGINEERING EDUCATION
In order to practice their profession in an increasingly diverse workplace environment, engineers must have a strong knowledge both of theory and practice aspects. Also, generic or transferable attributes such as communication and teamwork are required. The practical aspects related to technical excellence are usually gained in educational laboratories. Over the years, the nature of these laboratories has changed, and virtual or remote laboratories have been considered as a support to physical ones. The traditional teaching methods are expensive and require complex logistics regarding space, staff, scheduling and safety, while virtual laboratories may allow overcoming these limitations. However, the latter cannot fully substitute the performance of physical laboratory experiments in engineering curricula [1, 2].
In any sort of laboratory, the lack of clear learning objectives often limits its effectiveness. This work describes the use of conceptual maps as a teaching tool in the development of a laboratory course in environmental engineering, involving both traditional lab and web-based activities. Concept maps 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. Linking words or phrases are written on the lines, specifying the relationship between the two concepts .
Initially, the students are provided with basic information on the laboratory activity they are going to perform, and then required to construct a general conceptual map representing said activity, with especial focus on its main objectives and stages. This can be carried out as an individual or group assignment, but in all cases the maps are compared and discussed before starting the actual lab work. The utilization of web-based platforms and electronic discussion boards are helpful tools for the exchange of information and opinions. Later, the same process is carried out with each step of the activity, in order to analyze the aims, methodology and results. The efficiency of this approach is assessed by the realization of a multiple-choice test and a perception survey at the end of the course.
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