This semester, the University of Glasgow’s School of Chemistry have transformed two teaching lab units with learning technology.
In doing so, they have enhanced student confidence in the lab, made more efficient use of lab time and improved the quality, consistency and timeliness of feedback whilst reducing the staff marking burden.
The initial situation
Lecturer Dr Ciorsdaidh Watts had already added some innovative changes to Glasgow’s chemistry teaching labs the previous year. These included student-created videos, plus pre-lab and safety quizzes.
The videos which gave information about equipment set-up were useful but students desired something more interactive:
And there were still concerns where “students would often come into the lab unprepared.”
Post-lab assignments were written up from scratch, and marking was spread between various demonstrators, returned after a number of weeks.
In the “before” case: consistency, quality and established rules around feedback were among the major gripes:
After Ciorsdaidh reached out to us at Learning Science, we began discussing end-to-end lab solutions.
The practicals themselves were well-established and roadtested over a number of years. But together we transformed the students’ pre-lab and post-lab experience.
The first practicals to receive treatment were 1st year synthetic chemistry (7 labs, ~600 students) and 3rd year organic chemistry (5 labs, ~100 students) labs.
For each practical, students accessed Learning Science’s interactive pre-lab activities from within their VLE. They could learn-by-doing to boost confidence and skills in the equipment and techniques they would be using in the lab session.
The students were keen on the interactive nature of the pre-lab simulations, and the immediacy of feedback received as they were practicing:
This had a real impact in the lab. Staff reported a reduction in time taken for students to get up-and-running, and a decrease in trivial question frequency:
Each post-lab report was converted into an online assignment, featuring complex calculations using our Smart Worksheet technology among other question types.
Smart Worksheets work with students’ own data and provide instant, personalised feedback as the student types and after submitting each answer. Issues with inconsistent marking were removed, and students appreciated how it scaffolded their learning without taking away the challenge:
Students were more satisfied due to the instant feedback and support provided through the Smart Worksheet post-lab experience. The ease by which students could submit the report and get immediate access to the grades and feedback helped maximise the learning in their busy schedule.
Ciorsdaidh reported on the benefits to academic staff running the practicals who want to ensure students get the most out of their lab sessions:
Overall, the transformation of the pre-lab and post-lab experience has enhanced student engagement and confidence in the lab, as reported by staff and the students themselves.
Furthermore, the pre-lab and post-lab resources were popular with students and staff, and students were more satisfied with the feedback quality and timeliness.
Many thanks to all students and staff for their input across the project and in the focus group sessions (Nov 2017) where we obtained the quotes used above. We look forward to working with Ciorsdaidh and the rest of the Glasgow Chemistry team in readiness for next academic year.
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