Academic journal article Journal of College Science Teaching

A Multidisciplinary Laboratory Course in Color Science

Academic journal article Journal of College Science Teaching

A Multidisciplinary Laboratory Course in Color Science

Article excerpt

The science of color has applications in many fields. Within chemistry, this subject is already broad and spans organic, industrial, solid state, coordination, and physical chemistry. Physics subdisciplines related to color include optical and condensed matter physics. In addition to its applications in the physical sciences, color science relates to fields of study throughout a liberal arts curriculum such as biology, theatre arts, visual arts, psychology, and computer science, as well as to applied fields such as textiles and paint manufacturing. In the liberal arts setting of Wagner College, the lecture course entitled Color Science was developed in order to enhance multidisciplinary study (Gelabert, 2006), and in 2009 this offering was expanded with a laboratory component. Development of the lab course, besides establishing an experiential component for the lecture, further highlights the diversity of disciplines through which color science can be taught.

Extensive pedagogical literature addressing science teaching to non-SMET (science, math, engineering, or technology) students focuses in particular on the role of courses for nonscience majors (Druger, 2001; Hazen & Trefil, 1991) and on how to enhance the relevance of science for this student cohort (Singh, 1999). With the overall goal of improving science literacy (Klotz, 1992; Tro, 2004), scholars in the field of science education have suggested that the most effective learning in courses for nonscience majors is accomplished with a broad set of learning goals (Caprio, 1999). This breadth has been achieved in innovative learning communities developed by faculty in both the sciences and humanities (Schachter, 2010).

These courses are further enhanced by the addition of lab components. Although nonscience majors are often unfamiliar with experimental work, the lab provides an important opportunity for students to learn material in an experiential setting and hone observational and analytical skills according to the broader liberal arts mission. In this sense, taking a lab course by its very nature is inherently valuable. With regard to multidisciplinary learning, other successful laboratory models include mixing of disciplines such as biology, chemistry, and physics (Ramsey, Ramford, & Deese, 1999; Van Hecke, Karukstis, Haskell, McFadden, & Wettack, 2002). Extension of lab experiences to disciplines outside of science enables an even wider set of learning goals to be addressed. A multidisciplinary laboratory teaches important skills in the areas of observation, data collection, analysis, and reasoning and deduction, while at the same time providing broad applications to different disciplines. In addition to enabling students to learn the material more effectively, an equally important aim of the lab component was to build students' confidence and to enhance their engagement with scientific material and their appreciation of science.

Disciplinary demographics played a significant role in the decision for a multidisciplinary design. In lecture offerings through 2005, before lab course development, 40% of the students were majors in the social sciences and visual/performing arts. The remaining majors were primarily business administration (24%) or undeclared (30%). Therefore, the choice to develop labs focusing on psychology, art, and theatre targeted a sizeable fraction of enrolled students. Modifying the content of the course is relatively straightforward because the field of color spans many different subjects and applications and is relevant to a variety of majors and careers. Development of a multidisciplinary laboratory reinforces this broader course design while offering experimental rigor and instruction in data analysis to the nonscience major population.

Lab experiments

In approximately 12 weeks of lab experiments, six lab exercises are dedicated to the disciplines of art, theatre, psychology, and computer graphics, and the remaining experiments are more conventional physical science laboratories. …

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