Pedagogy of learning through practical classes

Anna Nortcliffe and Jack Goodwin-Jones
Sheffield Hallam University

The proposed paper is the results of an investigation into student learning in engineering laboratories.   The bespoke engineering learning spaces utilise unique engineering laboratory equipment that are designed to support student learning.  The role of laboratory whether simulation or real experimentation is to develop students’ learning and ability through moving the learner through all four quadrants of Kolb’s learning theory, Kolb (1985).   However, in practice; is this being achieved?  Are students developing their learning in laboratories? Therefore what is good engineering laboratory practice?  There has been extensive research into the pedagogy of science laboratories, and defining good practice, recent from the HEA (Shallcross, Slaughter, Harrison and Norman, 2015).   However, engineering accrediting bodies still typically cite Dewey (1910) on how laboratories should be used to assist learners to construct knowledge.  Demonstrating there is a disconnect in engineering between the pedagogy development of theoretical understanding and knowledge in the lecture theatre/tutorial to actual practice developed in the laboratory.
Many vocational courses from nursing, physiotherapy, science to engineering require students to be able to transverse theory into practice in order to be successful employable practitioners in their subject..  Feisel and Rosa (2005) identified that instructional laboratories should be designed to develop students’ knowledge, understanding and application abilities.  This paper will present the common observations and results of two research projects that have evaluated student learning in laboratory using quantitative and qualitative research methods that assessed student learning of applying theory into practice post a laboratory experience.  The initial results indicate the timetable timing of the learning theory in a lecture is critical to optimising student applying learning in the laboratory.   The paper will highlight the impact of current laboratory design has on student learning and identify best pedagogy practice for practical learning.
Dewey, John (1910). How we think. Heath and Company Publishers, D.C.

The Engineering Council (2014). The Accreditation of Higher Education Programme UK Standard for Professional Engineering Competence, Third Edition  (AHEP), The Engineering Council, [on-line at]
Feisel, L. D., & Rosa, A. J. (2005). The role of the laboratory in undergraduate engineering education. Journal of Engineering Education, 94(1), 121-130.
Kolb, D. (1985). Learning styles inventory. The Power of the 2 2 Matrix, 267.
IMechE (2013). The Institution of Mechanical Engineers Academic Accreditation Guidelines, [on-line at]
Shallcross, D. E., Slaughter, J. L., Harrison, T. G., & Norman, N. C.(2015) Innovative pedagogies series: A dynamic laboratory manual, Higher Education Academy