I’m taking 5, count em, 5 classes with labs this semester.
To give you an idea of what this mean, if you take a Political Science class that meets on Tuesday and Thursday, you will have about two hours of class time per week. If you take a T Th or a M W class with a lab (and I have 3 of those) you are in class 4 hours per week per class with the 2 hour lab. I’m in lab a total of 11 hours per week. I have one lab every day. Its the equivalent of taking almost 30 credits.
I say this not to get sympathy, but to show that I’m pretty much an expert on labs now. I’ve taken them in the following departments: biology, chemistry, physics, astronomy, and geology.
Here is my users guild to labs at the University of Minnesota.
Astronomy Astronomy lab makes no sense. None. There are no other astronomy classes that have labs other than intro astronomy. The reason why they offer labs is so students will take the course to get their lab requirment out of the way. The labs really do nothing to teach you anything. You don’t even have a lab where you go and look at the stars. They have a project you do where you chart the course of the moon over the semester, but it too is pretty dumb. I really like astronomy and I had a great professor, but the labs make no sense. They should turn the labs into lectures.
Biology: The College of Biological Sciences has a seperate department that just deals with intro biology classes. They have the system down to a science. The labs (at least in 1009) were usually busywork, but sometimes pretty interesting (the DNA lab). Lab was 35% of the total grade in the course. There were pre-lab quizes before each lab (not lab session. A lab sometimes went 2 or three sessions). Each prelab was worth 3 points out of the total 200 for the course. There were also 2 small lab tests (11 points), one big lab test (16 points), a lab report (10 points), and two graded labs (10 points). Much of the lab is actually lecture from the TA. The lab is almost treated as a seperate class. You only work with microscopes twice, so your not actually don’t a lot of hands on biology stuff. The final lab on DNA replication was very good.
Chemistry Chemistry is the one department where lab really makes sense. Most of what you do in chemistry involves actually doing stuff with chemicals and beakers and flasks. There are some BS things you have to do in Chem I (poster assignment) but working in a chem lab is something that requires experience and so its a good thing to have chem lab. Chem lab is three hours long, whereas more labs are 2 hours. If nothing else, chem lab is probably the best lab becuase you are actually doing chemistry, not doing simulations of stuff. Lab is 20% of the total grade in the course.
Geology I have three geology labs this semester. What is great about them is that there is no pre-lab work, and no write ups. What after lab stuff you have to do is pretty minimal. The labs are self contained. Two of my labs count for 25% of my course grade, and one counts for 50%. They have crap for supplies. They don’t even have rulers and stopwatches. There is one lab room. One. If the university is a city, then the biology dept is the rich part of town and the geology dept is the ghetto. One thing they probably should do is standardize their labs. Each TA writes their own labs, and most seem to do it the night before. Its usually not an issue, but they could tighten it up.
Physics I HATE physics lab. I dread going. Its not that the people suck or antying, but Physics I and II are writing intensive courses. That means you have to do lab write ups 5-6 times a semester. They suck. You lean nothing in physics lab other than verifying what they told you in lecture is true. The Physics II labs make less sense than the Physics I labs. The lab manuel is horrible and most of the lab objectives are not very clear. They be better off offering non-writing intensive versions of the courses and doing more lecture, formula derivation, and problem solving, and less lab work. My current TA is a great guy. Probably the best TA I’ve ever had, but the curriculum is not under his control. I lothe tuesday mornings.
I should also note that with the exception of my 6pm Thursday chem lab, all of my other labs are at 9am, and that really sucks.
Next semester I’m looking at fewer labs 3-4, and no 9am labs. I hope.