Three hours, no credit

GVL / Ally Young
Changes to lab credits at GVSU.

Ally Young

GVL / Ally Young Changes to lab credits at GVSU.

Liz Garlick

All students at Grand Valley State University must take a science course with a lab at some point in their college careers, but most, if not all, of those lab courses are offered for very little credit at the university.

According to GVSU’s Office of Institutional Analysis, 46 science classes with three-hour labs were offered in the Fall 2011 semester, and 51 were offered in Winter 2012. In the fall, 7,139 students took labs, with 6,359 students currently enrolled in lab courses.

Despite the time reserved for class and studying, these students often receive no credits.

“Three hours of lab are not assigned three credits as the style of teaching and learning are very different,” said Todd Carlson, chairman of the chemistry department. “Labs are more of an experimental learning process where students learn by doing, such as with internships, independent research, field classes, or art and music studios. You will find that internships, research, field work and studio classes have similar formulae for determining results.”

Mary Schutten, associate dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, said that lab courses have more work inside the classroom than outside.

“Lab and studio courses by virtue of the need to perform tasks mostly within the lab or studio are allocated differently,” Schutten said, adding that 80 to 100 percent of lab work occurs during the lab itself.

She added that the amount of credits assigned to a lab also depends on whether the lab is connected to a course.

“The science courses that have labs vary in how things are structured,” Schutten said. “For example, some labs are part of the course and the credits for the course are reported as a whole. When a lab is offered separately, the credit and number of hours varies with the course. Typically, labs where the students need access to the lab itself to do the work have more hours.”

Neil MacDonald, chair of the biology department, said awarding zero or one credits to a lab is a reflection of how the labs are scheduled.

“If the lab is scheduled as one of many laboratory sections, it is nominally assigned one credit,” McDonald said. “If the lab is part of a smaller course where there are only a few lab sections with one lecture section, it is nominally assigned zero credits, since all of the course credit is kept track of through the single lecture system.”

The professor said the amount of homework required for labs outside of class varies with the type of lab.

“This is part of the total amount of work required for the entire course, lecture and lab combined, which the expectation would be from eight to twelve hours per week in addition to the time actually spent in class,” he said.

Carlson said sometimes students may finish their experiment early and not have to stay for the whole period, but this depends on the week, student, and class. He added that little lab work usually is required outside of class other than reading the lab manual to be prepared.

Carlson also said upper-level lab classes are “likely to require more elaborate lab reports and data analyses to be done outside of class,” and that some upper-level classes “are assigned SWS credit because of all the writing involved.”

Rigorous work both inside and outside the class is expected of students, as well as coming to class prepared for experiments. Whether students are taking science classes for general education requirements or for their majors, labs are often a required part of the course and do not always count for outside credit.

“The university curriculum committee oversees credit hours assigned to all courses,” Schutten said. “They require units to justify—based on best practice in the discipline and university policy—the credit allocations through the curricular development process.”

To figure out which courses require labs and how many credits each lab is worth, check the 2012-13 course catalog.

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