Because this approach remains common today, we refer to these isolated interactions with natural phenomena as “typical” laboratory experiences.
Reflecting this separation, researchers often engaged students in one or two experiments or other science activities and then conducted assessments to determine whether their understanding of the science concept underlying the activity had increased.
Some studies directly compared measures of student learning following laboratory experiences with measures of student learning following lectures, discussions, videotapes, or other methods of science instruction in an effort to determine which modes of instruction were most effective.
Over the past 10 years, some researchers have shifted their focus.
Although most of these goals were derived from previous research on laboratory experiences and student learning, the committee identified the new goal of “understanding the complexity and ambiguity of empirical work” to reflect the unique nature of laboratory experiences.
Students’ direct encounters with natural phenomena in laboratory science courses are inherently more ambiguous and messy than the representations of these phenomena in science lectures, textbooks, and mathematical formulas (Millar, 2004).Given the complexity of these teaching and learning sequences, the committee struggled with how best to describe them.Initially, the committee used the term “science curriculum units.” However, that term failed to convey the importance of integration in this approach to sequencing laboratory experiences with other forms of teaching and learning.The committee thinks that developing students’ ability to recognize this complexity and develop strategies for sorting through it is an essential goal of laboratory experiences.Unlike the other goals, which coincide with the goals of science education more broadly and may be advanced through lectures, reading, or other forms of science instruction, laboratory experiences may be the only way to advance the goal of helping students understand the complexity and ambiguity of empirical work.In reviewing evidence on the extent to which students may attain the goals of laboratory experiences listed above, the committee identified a recent shift in the research.Historically, laboratory experiences have been separate from the flow of classroom science instruction and often lacked clear learning goals.While these inventories of goals vary somewhat, a core set remains fairly consistent.Building on these commonly stated goals, the committee developed a comprehensive list of goals for or desired outcomes of laboratory experiences: There is a larger body of research on how students learn science that is not considered in depth here because the committee’s focus is science learning through laboratory experiences.Next we consider the role of technology in supporting student learning from laboratory experiences. Laboratories have been purported to promote a number of goals for students, most of which are also the goals of science education in general (Lunetta, 1998; Hofstein and Lunetta, 1982).The committee commissioned a paper to examine the definition and goals of laboratory experiences (Millar, 2004) and also considered research reviews on laboratory education that have identified and discussed learning goals (Anderson, 1976; Hofstein and Lunetta, 1982; Lazarowitz and Tamir, 1994; Shulman and Tamir, 1973).