U of A professor finds hands-on learning a big advantage for students

An award-winning University of Alberta professor has discovered hands-on learning gives students in his environmental instrumentation course a leg-up on their peers.

Undergrads who get practical experience 'are always a step ahead of their peers,' Jeffrey Kavanaugh says

University of Alberta students take measurements on a rooftop weather station, which is a practical part of their environmental instrumentation class. (Supplied )

An award-winning University of Alberta professor has discovered hands-on learning gives students in his environmental instrumentation course a leg-up on their peers.

This month, students in Jeffrey Kavanaugh's class get to build weather stations on the roof of the Tory Building on campus. This will allow them to monitor air temperature, relative humidity and the speed and direction of the wind. 

"For a lot of students, this is their only practical experience building a weather station that measures meteorological variables before they go on to a career in environmental sciences," Kavanaugh, a professor in the department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, said in a university news release. .

"There are definitely more 'a-ha' moments in labs or in the field. I think lab exercises represent that critical step where theory is made real. Students who get that hands-on experience are always a step ahead of their peers."

Kavanugh's class has already helped students land positions within the industry and in summer research programs.   

Student Ashley Smibert says the lessons she is taking will give her more confidence when she starts looking for a job. 

"I am a hands-on learner, so by having the laboratories hands-on, I actually understand my lectures more in depth," she said in the news release. 

Kavanaugh, who was given an innovation in teaching award from the Faculty of Science in 2015, wants to use drones as a learning tool. 

The devices could allow students to take pictures which could then be used to build three-dimensional elevation maps. 

"These labs feel like playtime because they capture the interests of students," he said.

"(They) break down the formal aspect of a lecture, and make the discussion more commonplace between the student and the teacher."


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