Understanding practical engagement: Perspectives of undergraduate civil engineering students who actively engage with laboratory practicals


  • Althea Richardson
  • Erik Blair


Engineering education, active engagement, Kolb cycle, experiential learning


A key goal of engineering education is to produce graduates who have the appropriate level of cognitive development to allow them to manipulate processes, solve problems and produce new knowledge. Teaching and learning using laboratory practicals is an approach that is designed to engage students in the investigation of genuine problems. The importance of the laboratory experience in engineering education cannot be over-emphasised since the critical role of laboratories can be correlated with the fact that engineering is an applied science which requires that students attain some level of hands-on skills in their chosen discipline. However not all students see the benefit of such hands-on experiences. In the present study, Kolb's experiential learning theory was used to assess the experiences of undergraduate civil engineering students at The University of the West Indies, St Augustine, Trinidad and Tobago who had elected to undertake laboratory-based projects. The participants in this study represent a minority group within their particular cohort in that they actively engaged with practical laboratory activity. This study determined that the "engaged" students showed a lack of deliberation around laboratory work as a learning experience in itself but valued its worth as a means of developing their technical skills. For these students, it was not the laboratory practical per se that was their focus nor was there any focus on the improvement of laboratory skills so that they could be technically more able. Rather, practicals were used as a means of increasing their future employability through the enhancement of skills relating to project management, decision making and time management.