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This study used action research to implement a constructivist approach in the delivery of the electronics and measurements laboratory classes for a phase six group of electrical apprentices in the Electrical Services Engineering Department of the Dublin Institute of Technology. The aim of the study was to investigate if the constructivist approach adopted, with a research group, could improve the effectiveness of the two labs.
The research group consisted of sixteen, phase six, male electrical apprentices for both the electronics and measurements labs. The students ranged in ages between eighteen and twenty five years of age and were a randomly selected cohort. The research was carried out over a standard ten week block release course as part of the Standards Based Apprenticeship scheme.
A literature review was carried out covering three main areas of interest; practical work in laboratories; constructivism; and action research. These three areas were used to inform the research process and to identify a suitable methodology and methods of data collection. These methods consisted of a questionnaire to all phase six groups in the department at the time of the study, the control group; a recorded focus group; lab feedback sheets; recorded individual interviews; a reflective research journal; and examination results. Two cycles of action research were carried out.
The first cycle of action research was five weeks in duration and used an investigation type approach to solving problems on topics relevant to the labs. Following discussions with the group in week five, a different approach was agreed for cycle two. This second cycle was four weeks in duration and followed a format of carrying out standard exercises in the lab but were immediately followed by in-depth group discussions on the outcomes of the exercises and the data collected.
The findings show that the students found the investigation type approach difficult to engage with as it required a level of self-directed learning not normally used on the course. The in-depth discussions of cycle two were more effective in linking the theory and practical aspects of the lab work. The conclusions are that a student centred constructivist approach for the labs can be effective provided it does not remove all the formal structures and students are allowed time to adapt to the new format. It is recommended that this type of approach be introduced into phase four so that students have a longer
Ashworth, Francis: Will Using a Constructivist Appraoch Improve Laboratory Work for Phase 6 Electrical Apprentices?. Dissertation. Dublin, Dublin Institute of Technology, 2005.