F3-T3-1 - What matters for learning in labs? – Experiences from designing for insightful learning in labs based on a symbiosis of American and European thinking

3. Research Full Paper
Jonte Bernhard1
1 Linköping University, Sweden

Full paper track proposal: 

Engineering education research scholars have been encouraged to “look for opportunities to translate research questions, theories, methods, and findings … across national and institutional boundaries” and urged to “think globally about the development of engineering education as a research field”. Nevertheless, engineering education have been criticized for, in reality, not being so global in its practices. 

This paper describes the use of American and European thinking in the development of “conceptual” labs for engineering courses. The research can be seen as an example so-called design-based-educational-research. In 1995 the first project started – “Experientially based physics instruction” – in that later would become a series of projects with the intent to develop “conceptual labs” for engineering physics courses. The term experiential was deliberately chosen to reflect that – in line the concept of intentionality and theories of experience stemming from Brentano, pragmatism (e.g. James, Peirce and Dewey), phenomenology (e.g. Merleau-Ponty and Ihde), phenomenography and variation theory (e.g. Marton), and activity theory (e.g. Vygotsky, Leontyev and Engeström) –conceptions was seen as reflecting a non-dualistic person-world-relationship.

The first the design of labs was inspired by “interactive engagement” curricula such as “RealTime Physics” and “Workshop Physics” developed in the US. However, these curricula were adopted to the Swedish setting and traditions. In further development of labs the thinking was influenced by variation theory, activity-theory and pragmatic and (post-)phenomenological theories of the philosophy of technology. Labs for advanced mechanics, and for introductory and advanced courses in electric circuit theory were later developed using similar ideas. The labs utilized probe-ware and real-time computer-based measurement technologies (also named microcomputer-based laboratory [MBL]) as a mediating technology and task design according to variation theory.

Students’ learning in various designs of these labs have been studied by recording students’ activities and interactions by video and by using concept inventories such as the Force and Motion Conceptual Evaluation (FMCE). It was found that some design of labs resulted in high achievements (normalized gains in the g≈50-60% range and with effect sizes d≈1.1) on the conceptual tests well in line with the results from the US. Furthermore, it was found that in the high achieving labs the technology was used to bring important concepts and relationships into students’ focal awareness, i.e. the technology was used as a “cognitive tool”. But it was also found that the probe-ware technology could be implemented in ways that lead to low achievements. According to the analysis the lower achievements in the latter case can be attributed to differences in task structure in the labs – the necessary pattern of variance and in-variance in line with variation theory were missing. These results for what matter for students learning in labs differ to some extent from earlier proposals to explain the success of interactive engagement curricula and also questions some of the assumptions behind “active learning”. In conclusion, I would claim that the analysis presented here were brought forth and facilitated by achieving synergies between American and European thinking.