Online course to improve university laboratory teaching practice


  • Natasa Brouwer
  • Gunther Fleerackers
  • Nineta Hrastelj Majcen
  • Iwona Maciejowska
  • Claire McDonnell
  • Mauro Mocerino


Laboratory classes are an essential component of most science and engineering courses with the potential to achieve a number of practical and theoretical objectives. Subsequently, the demands on students (and instructors) are great. The students must not only learn manipulative techniques, but also link theory to practice, solve different kind of problems, interpret data, interact with staff and other students, and successfully navigate the lab itself. Learning in this situation can be greatly assisted by an educator who is able to guide students through this complex process. However, the effectiveness of laboratory classes is often not achieved to their full potential. Rice, Thomas and O'Toole (2009) showed in their report "Tertiary Science Education in the 21st Century" the key role of laboratory instructors for higher science education. They argue a huge impact a laboratory teacher has on the students’ growth as chemistry professionals. O’Neal et al. (2007) and Dotger (2010), in their studies into the impact of teaching assistants and retention in science and engineering classes, both stressed the importance of providing high quality instruction in laboratory classes.

To improve this situation, the ECTN working group Lecturing Qualifications and Innovative Teaching Methods is developing an online course on teaching in laboratory classes entitled “Developing best practice in university laboratory education”. The course is targeted at relatively inexperienced university teachers. First, a Small Private Online Course (SPOC) will be launched and, after a trial period, it will be made open and more massive (MOOC).

In this article, the argumentation for the chosen content of the course is given based on the inquiry among university teachers and students, the structure of the course and its component modules are described and the course design is briefly discussed.