Test tubes in a lab

What is a lab course? What is a field course?

In a lab course, students typically attend lecture once or twice a week and lab once or twice a week. They get hands-on experience learning the techniques and approaches of their discipline. Labs are generally run by TAs (grads or postdoctoral fellows). Learn more about lab courses.

A field course may have lectures, but it also gets students out of the classroom: anything from weekly visits to Jasper Ridge Preserve or a quarter in Hawaii at the Wrigley Field Program.  Either way, the teaching team is enabling and overseeing students actually doing the activities of this discipline.

Why teach a lab or field course?

Because it’s fun! Over an experiment you can interact with students in an informal way, working together to solve problems and forming relationships that just aren’t possible from the front of a lecture hall.

And it’s real-life training. For many students, labs and fieldwork are their first taste of the kind of work you do in your research. Teaching a lab or field course allows you to pass on your expertise, train students to high standards, and convey the passion you have for your discipline.

Developing a lab or field course

To develop an effective lab or field course, we recommend these steps:

  1. Design/redesign your course thoughtfully with our Course Preparation Handbook and Course Design Aids. Stanford faculty can meet with a CTL consultant for course design support.

  2. Create a syllabus that carefully integrates activities with readings and lectures.

  3. Coordinate with your team of TAs and co-instructors, if any. Keeping the whole teaching team in sync will be essential.

  4. Get feedback on your teaching midway through the term, so you have time to make changes in the same quarter.

  5. After it’s over, reflect on your experience and interpret your end-quarter evaluations thoughtfully.

Tools for lab/field courses

Here are some tools for teaching a lab or field course. The links will take you to other pages in Teaching Commons where you can learn more.

How to communicate with students

Instructors of lab and field courses are communicating with students directly during class time, of course. But outside class, to share assignments and homework, they usually use email, a Learning Management System, or LMS (e.g., CourseWork), or possibly their own course website.

Learning Activities

Students in lab or field courses are often running experiments. These may be dictated by a textbook, or be more free-form, in which students develop research questions and design their own experiment to answer them. <link to Kam Moler profile when ready>

Sarah Billington and Sheri Sheppard combined lecture and lab in their Engineering 14 course Intro to Solid Mechanics. By bringing the labs right into the lecture, they could consult with their students as they worked, and taught their students about the “messiness”--and the joy--of engineering.

During your lab, or out in the field, you should incorporate active learning techniques. Learn more at


Assess your students’ learning with lab reports, projects, and exams.

Learn More

Case Studies

Stanford student in field catching bugs in a net. Photo by Rod Searcey for Stanford VPTL.

Students Walk and Talk Like Ecologists

Rodolfo Dirzo, Cynthia Wilber

Two students work together at the board. Photo by Rod Searcey for Stanford CTL.

How to Create Physicists

Kathryn Moler
Physics 62

The Oracle Team America yacht in the SF Bay during the 2013 America's Cup. Photo by Tom Ehman.

When Engineers Go Sailing

Bob Tatum, Margot Gerritsen, George Springer

Course Redesign to Integrate Teaching and Research

Tadashi Fukami, Sara Brownell