Listening to first year biology students’ experiences of laboratory activities: Identifying properties of learning activities and student learning


  • Pam Hurst La Trobe University


Focus groups, held in second semester but discussing laboratory experiences in first semester, were conducted with first year La Trobe biology students to explore their perceptions of laboratory activities. Students of a first year animal evolution and diversity subject had previously reported, via the university wide ‘Student Feedback on Subject’ survey instrument, that laboratory activities were the activity that most contributed to their learning. The aim of this study was to develop a deeper understanding of what laboratory characteristics were perceived as important to students. A grounded theory approach was used to qualitatively identify from the focus group transcripts the main characteristics, or properties, of laboratory activities recalled by students. Four properties of laboratory activities were identified that possessed a dimension on which student comments could be placed; sensory, attractiveness, structure, and instructions. In addition to these properties, properties attributable to student learning were also identified from the transcripts, confidence and attitude. Although identified from discussion around laboratory activities, these properties are also applicable to other learning activities. For a first year science student, having the confidence to learn is essential for successful future study.