Resource Database: Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences

Title Coping with Large Classes in the Laboratory
Originator Mark Varney
Department School of Ocean & Earth Science, University of Southampton, UK
Tel. +44 (0)2390 592680
Fax +44 (0)2380 593059

When I took over the co-ordination of the first year module in Chemical Oceanography, we had very large numbers in the class. These have climbed ever since, year on year. The teaching of 'laboratory chemistry' is difficult, and especially the application of chemistry to marine sciences. Because of the general lack of equipment (glassware, instruments, and so on) I have devised a number of computer exercises to develop their interpretative skills. The students now access oceanographic databases, and are able to plot up ship tracks, oceanic concentrations of various chemical species, or determine the ages of water in the general oceanic circulation.

The gains were that the students see the end result of research programs sooner. They appreciate the visualisation of data, which can be plotted in a number of different ways to demonstrate a variety of oceanographic principles.

The losses are much more serious, in my opinion. The students graduate with fewer analytical skills. They do not get to lay their hands on the instruments and apparatus that are used in the field. Potentially, they will not appreciate the demands of experimental design and error.


Computer-assisted learning
Laboratory work
Large classes

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