Journal of Science Education and Technology

, Volume 16, Issue 6, pp 500–506

Science Laboratory Environment and Academic Performance

Authors

    • Institute of EducationObafemi Awolowo University
  • Oluyemisi Aderibigbe
    • Department of Special Education and Curriculum StudiesObafemi Awolowo University
Article

DOI: 10.1007/s10956-007-9072-4

Cite this article as:
Aladejana, F. & Aderibigbe, O. J Sci Educ Technol (2007) 16: 500. doi:10.1007/s10956-007-9072-4

Abstract

The study determined how students assess the various components of their science laboratory environment. It also identified how the laboratory environment affects students’ learning outcomes. The modified ex-post facto design was used. A sample of 328 randomly selected students was taken from a population of all Senior Secondary School chemistry students in a state in Nigeria. The research instrument, Science Laboratory Environment Inventory (SLEI) designed and validated by Fraser et al. (Sci Educ 77:1–24, 1993) was administered on the selected students. Data analysis was done using descriptive statistics and Product Moment Correlation. Findings revealed that students could assess the five components (Student cohesiveness, Open-endedness, Integration, Rule clarity, and Material Environment) of the laboratory environment. Student cohesiveness has the highest assessment while material environment has the least. The results also showed that the five components of the science laboratory environment are positively correlated with students’ academic performance. The findings are discussed with a view to improving the quality of the laboratory environment, subsequent academic performance in science and ultimately the enrolment and retaining of learners in science.

Keywords

EnvironmentIntegrationRule clarityMaterial environmentOpen-endednessStudent cohesiveness

Introduction

Instructional science laboratories are widely regarded as key component of science instruction because most sciences are activity-based explorations into the natural world (American Association of Advancement of Science 1993; Bajah 1983). It is widely accepted that science is better taught using the discovery method (guided or unguided inquiry) or the experimental approach. For example Piaget (1969) encouraged children to discover for themselves through spontaneous interaction with the environment.

The use of this method is based on student participation and involves amongst others identifying problems, posing relevant questions, performing efficient and effective experiments, and making judgments on alternative hypotheses and interpretation of data (Aladejana 2006; Adelson 2004; Mayer 2003; Hung and Chin 1988). Students therefore learn to discover, learn from discovery and learn by discovery. This method requires a high level of interaction between the learner, the teacher, the area of study, available resources, and the learning environment.

Major benefits of this activity-based learning are that it makes the subject matter more comprehensible, minimizes forgetting, and is more likely to lead to transfer of knowledge and to acquire favorable attitudes toward a particular subject and toward learning in general. Also, it makes it easier for the student to progress from elementary to advanced knowledge. Thus, students are likely to be highly motivated, score higher on all types of test, gain critical insight and participate in out of class study (Burton and Stanley 1968; Combs and Snugg 1995; Bigge 1993). It has been found that achievement and skills improved when students were taught science in an activity-based curriculum (Turpin and Cage 2004; Welch and Walberg 1972; Fraser 1986; Bredderman 1983).

The learning environment and its determinants play a major role in improving activity-based teaching and learning in primary, secondary and higher education. According to Wong and Fraser (1996), an important determinant of student learning is the classroom-learning environment. Fraser (1986) reviewed over 60 studies in which the effects of classroom environment on science students’ outcomes were investigated and the findings suggested that students’ outcomes can be improved by creating classroom environments, which are conducive to learning. Also, some researches on classroom environment have indicated positive associations between the nature of the class environment and pupils’ attitudinal and academic achievement outcomes (McRobbie and Fraser 1993; Goh et al. 1995; Wong and Fraser 1996; Chin et al. 2004). Factors related to teaching styles, classroom design, and the learning environment interact to influence students’ satisfaction with learning (Zandvliet and Buker 2003; Dorman 1995).

The classroom environment is more than just the physical space; it is the entire setting for learning. It encompasses the variety of tools and information resources, the interactions, the relationships between and among students and teachers, as well as the expectations and norms for learning and behavior. Positive classroom environments are associated with a range of important outcomes for students. The laboratory is a major part of the setting for learning and most science activities designed for learning take place in it. Hence, the laboratory classroom environment is also very important for effective learning.

The laboratory classroom environment is a subtle concept that can be better understood in terms of its components, which can either be physical or abstract. The physical laboratory climate includes the location, the amount of light that gets into it, the furniture and the arrangement of the furniture. The science equipment and materials available for laboratory teaching, the construction and the ventilation of the laboratory also constitute part of the physical climate. The abstract climate has to do with the non-physical structure in the laboratory which includes the teachers’ personality, the student–teacher relationship, how the teacher can effectively manage the laboratory class, noise control and the population of the students in the class (Silberman 1973; Wilson 1996).

According to Instructional Philosophy (2004), a productive laboratory environment is a learner-centered classroom, which is comfortable and open exchange is promoted by treating all members of the class and their ideas with respect and thoughtful consideration and where tasks and activities should be selected to support specific learning goals. A good laboratory environment promotes student curiosity, rewards creativity, encourages a spirit of healthy questioning, avoids dogmatism, and promotes meaningful understanding, where wait-time is essential in prompting thoughtful responses and dialogue. Thus, a good science classroom welcomes all students and strives to enable all motivated students to be successful.

Five different dimensions of classroom environment have been identified. These are: Student cohesiveness, SC (degree to which students know, help and are supportive of one another); Open-endedness, OE (degree to which the laboratory activities emphasis an open-ended divergent approach to experimentation); Integration, IN (degree to which the laboratory activities are integrated with non-laboratory and theory classes); Rule Clarity, RC (degree to which behavior in the laboratory is guided by formal rules) and Material Environment, ME (degree to which the laboratory equipment and materials are adequate (Quek et al. 1998).

In most Nigerian secondary schools, a lot of students show little interest in science education because most of them fail science subjects and some others perceive science education to be difficult. According to Owokade (2006), the average performance at credit level in the West African School Certificate Examinations (WASCE) between 2001 and 2005 in mathematics, electronics, biology, and building construction was 30% credit pass.Also, enrolment in WASCE science was generally low, apart from mathematics and biology, which is compulsory for all students, enrolment in physics and chemistry between 2001 and 2006 was an average of 30% and 1% in technical subjects.

The state of science and technology education in Nigerian schools and universities is a matter for considerable concern, for while there is an increase in the study of some ‘soft’ science subjects, such as economics and psychology in schools, the enrolments for ‘hard’ science subjects such as physics and chemistry continue to decline (Owokade 2006). There are similar concerns about enrolments and staffing provisions in basic science subjects. Therefore, some positive actions need to be taken to halt this serious decline by encouraging brightest young people to choose science-based study and careers.

The main purpose of this study therefore is to assess the existing science laboratory environment, and consequently determine the relationship that exists between the science laboratory environment and academic performance of students in scientific tasks. The specific objectives of the study are to:
  1. 1.

    determine how students assess the various components of their science laboratory environment,

     
  2. 2.

    identify how the laboratory environment affects students’ learning outcome by analyzing the correlation between the two factors.

     

The study is predicated on the theoretical framework of constructivism, a philosophy of learning founded on the premise that by reflecting on our experiences, we construct our own understanding of the world we live in. According to the constructivist view, meaningful learning is a cognitive process in which individuals make sense of the world in relation to the knowledge, which they already have constructed (Wilson 1996).

According to Hanley (1994), meaning is intimately connected with experience. Inferences, elaborations and relationships between old perceptions and new ideas must be personally drawn by the student in order for the new idea to become an integrated and useful part of his/her memory. Windschitl (2002) identified some features of the constructivist classroom setting to include carrying out challenging experiments, engaging in meaningful problem-based work and working collaboratively with each other such that the learner can construct knowledge and skills through his/her own experience. The laboratory setting is one major avenue for the learner to actively carry out such experiments and construct new information onto his/her existing mental framework for meaningful learning to occur (Huitt 2003; Sherman 1995).

Research Methodology

The ex-post-facto design was used for the study. According to Watson (2000), this design is aimed at identifying the possible causes of a behavior by comparing study participants in whom the behavior is present with similar participants in whom it is absent after the independent variable has occurred. For the purpose of this study, this method was used with the independent variable (classroom environment) of study investigated for possible relationship to and effect on the dependent variable (performance). This design is used instead of the experimental method, as it is impossible to introduce the treatment of exposing students to laboratory classes for at least 2 years.

The population for the study consisted of students at the Senior Secondary School two (SSS II) who offered Chemistry in Ife Central Local government area of Osun state, Nigeria. This class is selected because it is expected that the students have had adequate exposure to laboratory classes to enable them to assess the climate of their laboratory classes. The sample of 328 students consisted of 82 students who were randomly selected from each of the four purposively selected schools based on the presence of a laboratory for science teaching.

The research instrument is a questionnaire designed especially for assessing the environment of science classroom classes in upper secondary and higher education levels by Fraser et al. (1993). The instrument, the Science Laboratory Environment Inventory (SLEI) consists of 35 items measuring the five different dimensions of the classroom environment—Student Cohesiveness, Open-endedness, Integration, Rule Clarity and Material Environment. All the items are structured statements. The response alternatives for each item are: Almost Never, Seldom, Sometimes, Often, and Very Often. They have summated rating scale ranging from 5, 4, 3, 2, to 1. The items are arranged in cyclic order and in blocks of five to enable ready hand scoring. The first item in each block assesses Student Cohesiveness (SC), the second item assesses Open-endedness (OE); the third item assesses Integration (I); the fourth item assesses Rule Clarity (RC); and the last item in each block assesses Material Environment (ME).

Thus, the seven items measuring each of the scales are:

Student cohesiveness

1, 6, 11, 16, 21, 26, 31

Open-endedness

2, 7, 12, 17, 22, 27, 32

Integration

3, 8, 13, 18, 23, 28, 33

Rule Clarity

4, 9, 14, 19, 24, 29, 34

Material Environment

5, 10, 15, 20, 25, 30, 35

The validated final form recommended by Fraser et al. (1993), for use by science teachers to assess environments of their laboratory classrooms was used in the study. The reliability of the instrument determined using the split-half reliability method gave the reliability coefficient of 0.86 for the complete instrument, and for the items assessing each of the dimensions, r values of 0.70 for OE, 0.72 for IN, 0.79 for ME, 0.81 for RC and 0.84 for SC were obtained.

In carrying out the data analysis, the positive items had the responses: Almost Never, Seldom, Sometimes, Often, and Very Often are given the scores of 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5, respectively. Items scored this way are 1, 2, 4, 7, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 16, 17, 18, 19, 21, 22, 28, 29, 30, 31, 32, 34, 35. Reverse scoring was used for the remaining items, which are designated as negative, where 5 is given for Almost Never, and 1 for Very Often. Omitted or incorrectly answered items are given a score of 3. The total score for each of the scales (Student Cohesiveness SC, Open-endedness OE, Integrated IN, Rule Clarity RC and Material Environment ME) was obtained by adding the score for the seven items belonging to the scales. The students’ achievement scores were obtained from the schools’ record for examinations.

Data analysis was carried out using descriptive statistics and Product Moment Correlation.

Results

To Determine how Students Assess the Various Components of their Science Laboratory Environment

The results showed that students assessed student cohesiveness, the degree to which students know, help and are supportive of one another highest with a mean score of 129.14. This indicates that about 73.79% of the students agreed that they relate well with other students in the laboratory class, get help from and can depend on members of the laboratory class, get to know other students well and work cooperatively during the laboratory class.

The second highest assessed component is Rule Clarity, degree to which behavior in the laboratory is guided by formal rules with a mean score of 121.32. With this score, 69.33% of the students agreed that there are clear rules to guide laboratory activities, the class is formal with many rules imposed for learners to follow and that the teacher outlines safety precautions at the beginning of the practical classes.

The third rated component is Integration, the degree to which the laboratory activities are integrated with non-laboratory and theory classes with a mean score of 86.75. This result indicates that only 49.58% of the students agreed that what their laboratory work is quite related to their regular science classes and that what is learnt in the theory classes is useful in the practical classes. The remaining half of the respondents feel that laboratory work and regular theory class are unrelated and that the practicals do not help to understand the regular science.

The fourth rated is the open-endedness component, which is the degree to which the laboratory activities emphasize an open-ended divergent approach to experiment with a mean score of 71.09. Thus, only 40.62% of the students agreed that there is an opportunity to pursue their science interests in the laboratory class, and that they can be required to design experiments to solve given problems, gather data, allowed to go beyond regular science class sessions, and decide the best ways to proceed in an experiment. Most of the students, (59.38%) feel that teachers decide the best away to proceed during laboratory activities and that all students are likely to be carrying out the same experiments.

The least rated is the Material Environment, the degree to which the laboratory equipment and materials are adequate with a mean score of 68.05. Only 38.89% of the students assessed that the equipment and materials needed for laboratory activities are really adequate. Most of the students (61.11%) agreed that the laboratory is often crowded, that they are ashamed of the appearance of the laboratory, that the available equipment are not in working order and the laboratory is not attractive. On the whole the students assessed their laboratory environment just a little above average with a mean score of 95.27. About 50% of the students feel that the total environment is not adequate with one form of lapses or another (Table 1; Fig. 1).
Table 1

Students’ assessment of the components of their science laboratory environment

S/N

Environment dimensions

\( \overline {\text{X}} \)

SD

Mean %

1

Student Cohesiveness SC

129.14

3.01

73.79

2

Open-endedness OE

71.09

1.40

40.62

3

Integration IN

86.75

2.10

49.58

4

Rule Clarity RC

121.32

2.25

69.33

5

Material Environment ME

68.05

3.73

38.89

6.

Total Environment TE

95.27

2.76

54.44

Maximum assessment score = 175

https://static-content.springer.com/image/art%3A10.1007%2Fs10956-007-9072-4/MediaObjects/10956_2007_9072_Fig1_HTML.gif
Fig. 1 

Students’ assessment of laboratory environment

The Science Laboratory Environment has a Significant Effect on the Students’ Academic Performance

For data analysis, paired sample correlations was carried out between the students’ performance scores in the promotion examination and the students’ scores in each of the five dimensions as well as the total score in the SLEI for their laboratory environment. The results of the analysis showed that there is a significant correlation between the type of science laboratory environment and students academic performance. The simple correlation values r have significant values for all the five dimensions (IN = 0.83; ME = 0.77; SC = 0.71; OE = 0.59; RC = 0.55) and the total environment, TE = 0.65, (Table 2). In particular, Integration, Material Environment, and Student Cohesiveness were strong correlates of achievement.
Table 2

Correlation analysis of performance against assessment of environment

S/N

 

Students’ assessment of dimensions

Performance

 

P

\( \overline {\text{X}} \)

SD

\( \overline {\text{X}} \)

SD

r

1

Student Cohesiveness SC

129.14

4.01

97.86

4.04

0.71

*<0.05

2

Open-endedness OE

71.09

1.40

140.91

1.37

0.59

*<0.05

3

Integration IN

86.75

2.10

121.17

2.33

0.83

*<0.05

4

Rule Clarity RC

121.32

2.25

158.23

1.88

0.55

*<0.05

5

Material Environment ME

68.05

3.73

88.76

4.11

0.77

*<0.05

6

Total Environment

95.27

2.76

121.39

2.41

0.65

*<0.05

Maximum assessment score = 175

Maximum performance score = 200

*Significant

Discussion

The study has been able to revalidate the SLEI in Nigeria as it was found to have high validity as an instrument for assessing the total laboratory environment as well for assessing the five components of the environment. This is contrary to findings of Chin et al. (2004) who found low reliability for items assessing OE and RC in Singapore. The study has also confirmed that it is possible for the teacher to assess the laboratory environment. This is especially important as it will be possible for the teacher to correct any lapses in the quality of the environment, improve upon it, and by such enhance the students’ performance.

The highest assessment for SC indicates a high level of cooperation, help and support among the students. It also indicates a high level of interaction between the learners. RC, which was assessed second highest shows that there are clear cut rules that learners must follow in the laboratory classes amongst which are precautions rules. However it must be noted that the laboratory classes need not be too formal as it can detract from the quality of interaction between learners and between learners and teachers.

The study has revealed that there is no adequate integration of laboratory activities with non-laboratory and theory classes. Thus, the students find that what they do in the laboratory are usually unrelated to the theory, and that their regular science is not integrated with laboratory activities. What they do in the laboratory quite often does not help them to understand the theory covered in the regular science class. They most likely see practicals as new concepts to be learnt. In this way, students are likely not to be adequately interested in their laboratory activities nor be able to understand them well. This defeats the purposes of such activities. The laboratory classes should emanate from theory classes such that students can actually see science as one to be learnt by activity and discovery and not by memorizing notes of the theory classes. The laboratory classes are not just to be entrenched in the theories learnt but must reveal productivity and usefulness in solving societal/environmental problems where necessary.

Most of the students see themselves as just carrying out whatever activities are designed by the teacher. Thus, in this type of laboratory environment, all students are carrying out the same experiments and cannot go beyond what is stipulated by the teacher. The students are not likely to use their initiative to do any activity and innovations are not likely to come up. This type of laboratory environment is just a replica of the typical theory classroom setting where the teacher is in control and presents him/herself as the repertoire of knowledge. The lab environment must move away from this setting to one of freer open-endedness where learners can take initiative.

The least rating of material environment confirms the fact that equipment and materials needed for laboratory activities are generally inadequate that the laboratories are crowded, and the appearance unattractive. The quality of this dimension can affect the quality of the other dimensions, for example when the ME is poor, students cannot even have facilities to try out their initiatives. Equipping the laboratories have been a major problem for schools and this might not be unconnected with factors such as funding and lack of commitment by government. On the whole, many of the students did not assess the laboratory environment well as it was assessed just above average. This is a clear indication that there is the need for a lot of improvement on the various dimensions.

This study found that the quality of the science laboratory environment and the way learners perceive it have a significant effect on the performance of the learners and agrees with Chin et al. (2004), Combs and Snugg (1995), Fraser and O’Brien (1985) and Wong and Fraser (1996) that the quality of the environment determines the type of understanding and memory of the subject that a child develops. The investigatory or inquiry method, which is the method of science, is carried out largely in the laboratory and requires the student to work in a conducive environment in order to develop the right attitudes. The science laboratory environment is where the student develops the skills of observation, inquiry, accurate reporting, creativity, generalization and the need for safety and caution; all of these determine performance in science.

There is a strong positive correlation found between pupils’ perception of integration and the material environment with achievement. The strong positive correlation found between pupils perception of the material environment with performance also reiterated the importance of the material environment in the learning of science. The results also reiterate the importance of the appropriate integration of laboratory activities with theory and the availability of adequate equipment and resources in helping pupils in the learning of science. Science laboratory classes that integrate knowledge learnt from science lessons and provide conducive material environment may ultimately have a positive impact on how pupils learn, pupils’ attitude towards science and their achievement in science.

Conclusion

The study has revalidated the SLEI in Nigeria and confirmed that teachers can assess their students’ perception of the science laboratory environment using a standard instrument. The knowledge of this can enable them to identify inadequacies in the quality of the environment. The science laboratory environment is an important determining factor of the academic performance of students in science as it has been found that there is a high positive correlation between the quality of the various dimensions of the environment and students’ academic performance. It is hoped that improved science laboratory environment will improve science instruction and learning.

Based on these findings it is recommended that there is the need to improve on the quality of the laboratory environment to enhance students’ academic performance. Students should be given better opportunity to know each other closely and to work cooperatively with each other in the laboratory. They should be provided with the required equipment and materials needed for the laboratory activities and encouraged to be creative by allowing them occasionally to purse their own science interests and designing their own experiments. Laboratory classes should be less formal to allow for better interaction of the pupils, however safety rules and code of conduct are essential in a laboratory setting.

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2007