Student engagement and practical education: questionnaire/focus group findings on interest and enjoyment

Research output: Contribution to conferencePosterpeer-review


Laboratory (or practical) teaching is an essential part of any chemical engineering curriculum. Indeed, from an IChemE accreditation perspective, this type of delivery constitutes one of the four main classifications – termed ‘chemical engineering practice’. Throughout the literature there are many reasons why practical teaching is considered so important. First, practical teaching helps to reinforce principles learned in taught classes. Second, such teaching provides opportunities for operating equipment and taking measurements, as well as troubleshooting when things don’t go as planned. Third, a natural conclusion of practical work is that of report writing – how to convey information to particular readerships – an important skill that is valued by employers. Fourth, practical teaching allows development of key transferrable skills such as group working, ethical considerations and awareness of health and safety. Finally, there is anecdotal evidence that experience of practical teaching tends to be remembered longer than other modes of learning, thus increasing the sustainability of learning. There are, however, two main issues with practical teaching. First, the cost of such equipment – both capital, running, maintenance and replacement costs. Second, the amount and type of space that is required for such equipment: this is particularly important given the increasing requirement for multi-purpose space. Furthermore, there is the competitive marketplace that is contemporary higher education – where experimental facilities can be an attraction for potential undergraduate students. How then to choose such equipment and decide on appropriate activities? The standard approach is for academic and technical staff to choose equipment based on various factors - including what might be classified as an interesting and enjoyable activity. This is often based on what the choosing staff found enjoyable (and perhaps avoiding what they did not find enjoyable) sometimes up to 30 years previously. However, there is rarely account of taken of current students' views of practical education. Indeed, this is a question that can be posed to the various proprietary equipment manufacturers as well as departments. At the University of Sheffield, part of the Learning & Teaching 2016-2021 strategy is an increasing focus on student engagement including on curriculum design. This work considers practical teaching in particular and one objective is to produce a generic classification of experimental activities that can be matched with student perception of practical teaching. Furthermore, at Sheffield, all UG practical teaching in the Faculty of Engineering is carried out at the Diamond (Department of Multidisciplinary Education). At the Diamond, laboratories are subject (rather than discipline) based and this has helped to gain an overview of a large number of experiments taking place across many UG programmes. This has led to a movement to define "Level Descriptors for Practical Education", recently presented at the (internal) Learning & Teaching Conference 2018. The overall objective of the 2018 work is to determine generic characteristics for UG experiments by considering progression throughout each year and from year to year. One aspect of the work being presented is to determine student perception of experimental difficulty with a view to informing the determination of the Level Descriptors
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 27 Mar 2018
EventChemEngDayUK2018: Molecules to Manufacturing - University of Leeds, Leeds, United Kingdom
Duration: 27 Mar 201827 Mar 2018


Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom


  • student engagement
  • chemical engineering practice
  • practical work


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