Editorial: Laboratory classes at Baylor need serious revamping

Many labs at Baylor began as courses of serious study, giving students hands-on experience to complement their class work. Now, however, many labs need serious restructuring.

Why? Well, from our research, many students say that lab degradation can be blamed on a combination of things.

The Lariat talked to students in several labs and this week ran an online survey asking students to describe their experiences in labs. Many students said the materials given to them for the labs do not adequately assist them in learning in-class course work — which is the whole point of having a lab in the first place. Many of the labs only vaguely follow what they are learning in the courses, are too far ahead or behind the class material, or are severely dated.

Which is not to say that this is universally true. Many of those who responded to the survey had a positive experience with their labs. There were enough, however, who responded negatively that it calls into serious question the quality of labs as a whole.

For example, in a lab exercise for Wildlife Ecology there were questions regarding exhibits and signs at the zoo that are no longer there or have changed. There were also some questions that provided inaccurate or outdated information. More importantly, the class was not covering mammal taxonomy at the time of the lab.

We feel that lab work should not only be timely in its content, but relevant to the current coursework. There is no point in wasting time in a lab that is going to send students on a wild goose chase.

We understand that those who design the labs are trying to mix up the material in order to make them more engaging and entertaining, but at the end of the day it doesn’t matter how entertaining the lab is if it’s not clear and relatable to coursework.

Lab designers should also take into consideration that many of the students are not signing up for these labs because they want to study scat or chemical clouds all day. Lab science classes are required in majors across the university that have nothing to do with the sciences. Many students just choose the easiest lab they can find and emerge at the end of the semester with a GPA-boosting grade.

Students also complained of lab teachers that were of little to no help to them.

This could be in part because the class and lab instructors are different. One professor teaches the lecture portion of the class, but a different instructor is in charge of the lab. The lab instructors disperse the work to their teaching assistants who are almost always graduate students. The graduate students then teach the actual class.

Because of this, information is not readily transmitted from the classroom to the lab, causing confusion for both students and teachers.

We feel Baylor should consider having the professors involved in the lab, rather than simply having graduate students read the lab manual with the undergraduate students. After all, this generation of students has the Internet, which puts an unlimited amount of information at our fingertips. What is the point of simply being told the information — instead of taught it — when it can be found quickly online.

We understand that Baylor is trying its best to offer a wide array of labs and we greatly appreciate those efforts. We do feel that since all students, unless they are granted an exception, are required to take at least one lab this is a serious matter that Baylor needs to rethink.

The first and most obvious solution would be to simply update the labs. Make sure that they contain the most up-to-date information available, that they are evaluated regularly to make sure the instructors and the students clearly understand what is expected of them and that they correspond with what is actually being taught in the lecture part of the class.

This would alleviate the majority of the grievances students expressed. From a student’s perspective, we feel that these few changes would make a world of difference.

Labs should be a fun, interesting and thought provoking addition to the main courses that students choose to take.

If we take a look at how we can improve them here, the students, faculty and the university will benefit.