Classroom lab management: What works, what doesn’t
We are excited to feature a series of three blog posts by Carter Stanfield, textbook author and instructor, regarding relevant HVAC topics such as this one on lab management, C02 as a refrigerant, and multivariate flow systems.
Running any educational program requires planning and resource management. This is especially true for lab-based programs, such as an air conditioning technology. Planning and management are required to ensure the lab operates safely and effectively. I try to hammer out as many details as possible before the semester begins, including having all my lessons and labs completed, having a schedule for those lessons, determining the time and materials each lab will require, developing the grading rubrics for all the labs, and designing a system for keeping track of the lab grades.
I like to have all my lessons and labs planned before the semester starts. I want to know exactly which labs we will be doing, when we will be doing them, what equipment and supplies will be required, and how they are to be graded. I develop a schedule to use as a roadmap to help navigate the semester. We use them to make sure our plan makes sense and avoid designed-in train wrecks. For example, a week with one or more school holidays is probably not a good week to plan a long lab and give a big exam. School holidays tend to vary a bit from one semester to the next, so semester schedules are adjusted to reflect the holiday schedules. I also try to avoid giving tests the same week as other courses that are normally taken together. I want to give the students every opportunity to do well.
I believe students also should have a road map. It helps keep them on track and headed for a successful semester. We give the students a schedule for each course. It lists the reading assignments, online assignments, lectures, labs, quizzes, and tests for the semester in a week by week format. The idea is to show the students up front exactly what is expected of them. It also helps students organize their time schedules and keep on track.
When considering the labs you want to do, keep the time constraints in mind. How long do students have each week, and how much time is reasonable for them to perform each lab. Remember the time is for students to do the work, not the time it takes you. In many cases, you probably want to double the time that it takes you.
You must also make sure you have the equipment and supplies necessary to do all the labs. Again, I really like to have all the material on hand at the start of the semester. Make arrangements to get any supplies you don’t have. If it looks like you cannot get the material, then you should probably choose an alternate lab. When looking for materials, remember your friends on the advisory committee, local contractors, and local wholesalers. They may be able to help you out with some donations.
We use rubrics to grade the labs. The rubrics show what we are looking for when we grade the lab and give guidelines for assigning the grade. The rubrics specify what the instructor will be observing, so the students know where the grade comes from. The rubric also specifies the relative importance of each characteristic. Each rubric has five characteristics, such as technique, identification, appearance, safety, or any other lab trait that makes sense for that particular lab. The lab instructor assigns a value of 1 to 5 for each lab characteristic, based on the student’s lab performance. This allows us to be more consistent in grading while specifying what the student can do to improve.
We use a spreadsheet to enter the grades on a computer in the lab. Rubrics lend themselves to the use of spreadsheets. The spreadsheet helps us keep the lab grades up to date and helps inform the students. The spreadsheet sends an email to the student’s school email address every time a lab grade is entered. It takes a little time to set up the spreadsheet before the semester, but it saves time all during the semester and really comes in handy at the end of the term because the lab grades are already done.
Take the time to plan your labs for the semester. It makes your life so much easier all during the semester. You will be glad you did.
Join me, March 30, 2016, 3 p.m. ET, when I will be presenting a webinar, Tips For Running an Effective Air Conditioning Program, covering various topics needed to ensure students are adequately prepared for the workforce. I will include plenty of time for a lively Q&A.
About the Author
Carter Stanfield grew up in the air conditioning business. His family still owns and operates Stanfield Air Systems in Athens, Georgia. Recently retired from Athens Technical College in 2015 where he taught for almost 40 years. He writes the blog Fundamentals of HVACR and is co-author of Fundamentals of HVACR, published by Pearson. Mr. Stanfield is still active in HVACR education, teaching part time, writing, and speaking at educational conferences. Mr. Stanfield’s Industry credentials include RSES CMS, NATE Certification, and a state of Georgia unrestricted Conditioned Air Contracting License. He earned a BS Ed. Degree in Technical Education from the University of Georgia where he graduated Magna Cum Laude.