Coventry University achieves greater engagement with lab practicals

We have partnered with Coventry University’s School of Life Sciences since 2017 to enhance student engagement with laboratory coursework.

By using our online resources before, during and after lab practicals, bioscience students have become more confident doing what’s asked of them, which helped them get better marks and pass the course the first time.

The Challenge:

Provide resources to improve successful participation in lab work

Coventry University’s School of Life Sciences believes in hands-on learning and focuses on providing an engaging practice-led learning environment. Building up confidence and expertise to do practical work in a laboratory was identified as an area needing improvement, requiring additional teaching resources. 

Dr Sharon Williams initiated a project to tackle this, which looked to enhance student engagement, performance and satisfaction with practical labs. As a result, we formed a partnership with Dr Williams and her colleagues at Coventry University’s School of Life Sciences to design a series of custom solutions. 

Our in-house team of experts worked together with the University’s lab organisers, combining our understanding of subject content, learning objectives, and proven communication methods. 

Coventry Challenge Sharon Williams
“There was a need to improve student engagement and results for lab practicals and an interpretive lab report. This has been a weak assessment area of the course, and students were not fully engaged with the experiments and found it very difficult to write the lab report.”
Dr. Sharon Williams

The Solution:

Building confidence in practical skills through pre-lab activities and post-lab testing

We tailored our LabSims interactive online solutions to match the specific course activities and customised Smart Worksheets to consolidate post-lab learning.

Pre-lab solutions

To boost confidence in the equipment and techniques, we collaborated with Dr Williams and her colleagues to create active learning tasks for each practical. Coventry University students accessed these interactive pre-lab activities from within their VLE/LMS.

The most-used online lab simulations include:

  • Operating a pipette
  • Basic labware
  • Spectrophotometry
  • Enzyme-catalysed reactions
  • Cloning overviews

Simulations need to reflect the lab conditions that students will encounter accurately. In the case of Coventry, we found they use Biohit pipettes in their teaching labs. Our pre-lab interactives come with Gilson pipettes by default, but we switched the appearance and functionality for Biohit pipettes to better support the students.

A representation of customisation available in the Learning Science Labs: Bioscience package
Representation of the 'Operating a pipette' LabSim customisation


Similarly, we tailored the LabSims cloning overview to match the specific plasmid the Coventry students would be using. 

The pre-lab solution we offer is customised to the individual lab needs, making integrating with the specific courses easy and efficient for teaching staff. 

“Before attending the labs, students are encouraged to use the bioscience or chemistry materials to understand the practicals better. This makes the students more confident when attending the labs.”
Dr. Sharon Williams

Post lab solutions

Working closely with academic leads and their lab manuals, we designed and developed custom online post-lab assignments from the ground up - a total of seven for our first academic year in collaboration.

Using our Smart Worksheet technology, we developed post-lab challenges to consolidate learning from practicals. These include:

  • Basic lab skills
  • Spectrophotometry
  • Differentiating white blood cells
  • Analysing headache tablets using UHPLC and TLC techniques

We also developed auto-graded post-lab quizzes on a variety of cloning topics. 

By testing themselves with Smart Worksheets, students can get real-time feedback as they apply what they have learned in the laboratory.

Happy Face
“I love pre and post labs activities. They allowed me to understand the lab practicals and made it easier to write the lab report. Great experience.”
Feedback from Bioscience Student
Happy Face
“Using the post-lab quizzes really helped my understanding and learning.”
Feedback from Bioscience Student

The Results:

75%

rated post-lab quizzes ‘very useful’

The survey conducted also reflected that students were very satisfied with the speed of feedback.

Our pre-lab and post-lab resources have had a measurable impact on student experience and achievement, helping to build their confidence in practical skills and reduce the teaching workload to manage this.

92%

‘agree’ or ‘strongly agree’ pre-lab provided good opportunity to learn

Almost all students surveyed felt our learning simulations were engaging.

84%

said interactive online resources helped them prepare for the lab

Survey of students at Coventry University’s School of Life Sciences using LabSims.

The survey of pre-lab activities shows that the vast majority of students believe using these resources helped them approach the practical environment with confidence.

Automatically graded post-lab worksheets provide immediately detailed and consistent feedback and free up valuable staff hours during the busy term-time.

The auto-graded post-lab assignment directly contributed to the increased quality of lab reports for practicals, particularly lower-ability students.

Done properly, auto-graded post labs can serve as both an assessment task and a learning opportunity. In this survey, 100% of students agreed or strongly agreed that the post-lab helped them understand the practicals, and the science behind them, more thoroughly.

The team at Coventry University found our resources and collaborative approach forms an important part of their students' learning and innovation.

Sharon Williams
“It has been a great experience to implement the online material and see the impact. The students found it very helpful and engaging. It takes away the fear of uncertainty before coming to the lab.”
Dr. Sharon Williams
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