Asee peer logo

Comparison of Labatorials and Traditional Physics Labs

Download Paper |


2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access


Virtual On line

Publication Date

June 22, 2020

Start Date

June 22, 2020

End Date

June 26, 2021

Conference Session

Engineering Physics and Physics Division Technical Session 1

Tagged Division

Engineering Physics and Physics

Page Count




Permanent URL

Download Count


Request a correction

Paper Authors


Calvin S. Kalman Concordia University Orcid 16x16

visit author page

Calvin S. Kalman, has been at Concordia for over 51 years (35 as full Professor). He has served many roles at the Canadian Association of Physicists (CAP) including Chair, Division of Physics Education, councillor (in charge CAP tour - Ontario & Quebec), Chair, CAP teaching medal committee. He has also had many administrative positions at Concordia including Principal, Science, College, Chair, Physics and chair of many faculty committees. Internationally he was for many years, chair of the Hyperons Charm and Beauty Hadrons conferences series and is presently Co-Chair Strand 1, NARST. His editing responsibilities include Guest Associate Editor Frontiers and series editor- Science and Engineering Education Sources. He is currently on the editorial board of Science & Education and Disciplinary and Interdisciplinary Science Education Research. He has had 13 books published, written 142 papers for journals and supervised 25 theses. He regularly serves as a referee for journals. He has been honoured to be a member of the Provost’s Circle of Distinction at Concordia University, received the Arts and Science Dean's lifetime achievement award for teaching excellence, Canadian Association of Physicists Medal for Excellence in Teaching and the Concordia University Council on Student Life Teaching Award . He is frequently invited to be a keynote speaker, most recently (2019) at two conferences in Bejing and (2020) in Puebla, Mexico.

visit author page


Franco La Braca Concordia University

visit author page

Franco La Braca obtained his bachelor’s degree in physics with a minor in computer science from McGill University in Montreal in 2018, during which time he developed a passion for education. During his undergraduate years, he also had the opportunity to get involved in computer graphics and animation research with Dr. Paul Kry, working on the development of an algorithm for animating elastic surface deformations, as well as in research in machine learning and early universe cosmology with Dr. Robert Brandenberger, applying convolutional neural networks to the detection of cosmic strings. Upon graduating, he participated in a two-month internship at Safecast in Tokyo, working on expanding the non-profit's educational outreach materials on radiation science and facilitating workshops for youth.

He has since then gone on to obtain a master’s degree in physics at Concordia University in Montreal in 2020, where he researched physics lab pedagogy and conceptual learning in the context of labatorials under the supervision of Dr. Calvin Kalman. He also went on a two-month research trip at the University of Washington in Seattle in 2019, where he examined the Physics Education Group’s ‘Tutorials in Introductory Physics' system and ‘Physics by Inquiry’ curriculum in comparison to labatorials as well as observed their ongoing physics laboratory reform.

visit author page

author page

Mandana Sobhanzadeh Mount Royal University

Download Paper |


The physics lab has long been a distinctive part of physics education. Physics labs play a central role in teaching and learning physics at the high school and undergraduate levels. There is, however, little research done on the educational influence of physics labs on students. Based on our experience and the published reports, we know that many students believe that traditional physics labs are uninteresting and tiresome. In traditional physics labs, students spend 2 to 3 hours collecting data, carrying out calculations, plotting graphs to present their results, and verifying a relationship. Unfortunately, much of the traditional lab experience of students focuses on recipe experiments, which include limited challenges and often choke their creativity. Traditional physics labs can be important in the development of many experimental skills and in demonstrating physics concepts, but they generally do not foster creativity in methodology or experimental design. Labatorials (combination of “lab” and “tutorial”) developed at the University of Calgary were inspired by the introductory physics tutorial system entitled ‘Tutorials in Introductory Physics’ at the University of Washington. The Tutorials are worksheets that require students to work through concepts that have been identified by research to be particularly difficult. Some tutorials require students to perform experiments and answer questions based on their observations. However, there is still a traditional lab system for the first year physics courses at the University of Washington. Labatorials have been described by Ahrensmeier et al (2012) and Ahrensmeier (2013), but there has not been any research to examine students’ perspectives on labatorials including their positive and negative aspects, in particular in direct comparison to traditional labs. In this paper, a mixed methods study is presented that examines and compares the advantages and disadvantages of labatorials and traditional labs in terms of the student experience and conceptual change.

Kalman, C. S., & La Braca, F., & Sobhanzadeh, M. (2020, June), Comparison of Labatorials and Traditional Physics Labs Paper presented at 2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual On line . 10.18260/1-2--34314

ASEE holds the copyright on this document. It may be read by the public free of charge. Authors may archive their work on personal websites or in institutional repositories with the following citation: © 2020 American Society for Engineering Education. Other scholars may excerpt or quote from these materials with the same citation. When excerpting or quoting from Conference Proceedings, authors should, in addition to noting the ASEE copyright, list all the original authors and their institutions and name the host city of the conference. - Last updated April 1, 2015