The Influence of Laboratory Experience Timing on Student Knowledge-Level Achievement in an Undergraduate Introductory Agricultural Mechanics Course

Article excerpt

Abstract

Instructors often reflect upon their teaching techniques as they begin the process of constructing a course that contains both a lecture component and a laboratory experience. Often instructors are placed in a situation, due to limited resources, where laboratory activities can not coincide directly with the lecture portion of the course both in time and subject matter. Recognizing the laboratory as a time where students can apply the content knowledge presented in lecture to influence retention of information it is important to give each student the best experience possible. Noting the importance of the laboratory portion of agricultural mechanics and having limited space, equipment, and financial resources, instructors must create methods to maximize the educational impact of the laboratory experience and serve student learning. Students were grouped by prior experience in content area as well as students having completed or not completed a laboratory activity related to the lecture material at the time the lecture exam was given. Test scores were analyzed in an introductory agricultural mechanics course to evaluate possible group differences. Findings indicated no significant differences on content knowledge test scores between students who possessed prior experience versus those students who did not possess prior experience in the subject of small engines. Timing of the laboratory activity was found to have no bearing on how well students performed on the content knowledge assessment.

Introduction

According to America's Lab Report (National Research Council [NRC], 2006) the need and the role of the laboratory instruction has increased in the past 20 years. Driver (1995) states teacher's interventions, expectations, and actions help promote further student understanding in the laboratory setting. Quality laboratory instruction thus becomes a valuable concept in the curricula. The National Research Council (2001) states due to this growing awareness many institutions (secondary and postsecondary) have improved laboratory facilities. Smith et al. (2002) find facilities a serious problem for laboratory instruction. Developing methods which promote student learning and lab utilization is a key factor to maintaining current facilities and allowing for administration to develop new or modernize current structures (NRC, 2006).

The state of laboratory facilities and of resources to operate those facilities is of great concern in many secondary and post-secondary educational settings. In many cases, institutions have capital funds to build laboratory facilities, yet fail to adequately fund the equipment and supply needs of those facilities either due to lack of operational funds or poor administrative budgeting (NRC, 2006). Banilower et al. (2004) reported that there is great disparity in funding for laboratory facilities and supplies based on institution size and demographic composition of the students.

America's Lab Report (NRC, 2006) outlines seven goals of laboratory experiences: (1) enhance content knowledge mastery, (2) develop scientific reasoning skills, (3) develop an understanding of the complexity and ambiguity of empirical work, (4) develop practical skills, (5) understand the nature of science, (6) cultivate interest in science and interest in learning science, and (7) develop teamwork abilities. Ultimately, the goal is to move the learners' understanding from the lower levels of Bloom's Taxonomy (Bloom et al., 1956) to the higher levels. However, in order to reach those higher levels, a solid foundation must be laid at the knowledge level upon which further understanding can be built (Anderson and Krathwohl, 2001). Hofstein and Lunetta (2004) note there is little research which investigates when laboratory experience ought to occur in coordination with classroom lecture. The question if laboratory instruction should precede, coincide with, or follow classroom instruction remains unanswered. …