University of Glasgow’s School of Chemistry transformed its teaching labs

Over the last 5 years, the University of Glasgow’s School of Chemistry has used our learning technology to enhance student confidence in the lab and make more efficient use of lab time.

We helped them improve the quality, consistency and timeliness of feedback, whilst reducing the staff marking burden. This helped them meet the challenge of COVID-19 head on, delivering an effective remote experience for students and academics.

The Challenge:

Lack of preparedness for the lab, low engagement and ineffective feedback

Back in 2016, Lecturer Dr Ciorsdaidh Watts made some innovative changes to Glasgow’s chemistry teaching labs as a way to increase positive student engagement. These included student-created videos, plus pre-lab and safety quizzes.

However, while the videos which gave information about equipment set-up were useful, students needed something more interactive.

Obtaining valuable feedback with one of the focus groups at the University of Glasgow.

There were also concerns where students would still come into the lab unprepared, as well as issues with the consistency and quality of feedback.

Post-lab assignments were written up from scratch, marking was spread between various demonstrators, and took a number of weeks to be returned. This was a major gripe affecting the student experience:


“It didn’t lay out very clearly where you got marks from.... Everyone gave marks differently as well, which didn’t help and was frustrating.”
Student on initial post-lab situation
“In a video you just see someone doing it right. If you do it yourself you can learn from making mistakes.”
Student on initial pre-lab situation

The Solution:

Enhance the pre- and post-lab experience and transform the feedback process

The practicals themselves were well-established and road tested over a number of years. But together we transformed the students’ end to end experience.

LearnSci resources were initially introduced in 12 labs, to approximately 600 students, in the first year Synthesis Chemistry and third year Organic Chemistry courses in the academic year 2017-2018. These resources included online laboratory simulations (LabSims) and custom Smart Worksheets.

Pre-lab solutions


A still from an interactive from our pre-lab chemistry resource package
A still from an interactive from our pre-lab chemistry resource package

For each practical, students accessed LearnSci’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.

Happy student
“It tells you what you’ve done wrong and gives you instant feedback and that is really helpful.”
Student on new pre-lab interactives
Dr. Ciorsdaidh Watts
“We have noted how quickly students got started initially, and how much extra time they had in the lab to concentrate on techniques and safety.”
Dr. Ciorsdaidh Watts on new pre-lab interactives

Post-lab solutions


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.

Still from one of the University of Glasgow's Smart Worksheet post-labs, offering feedback at every stage

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.

Satisified Student
“It’s just at that point where it is not telling you the answer but it’s helping you get there. If I get the feedback a week later, I’m too busy working on the next lab report.”
Student on new pre-lab interactives
Dr. Ciorsdaidh Watts
“They’re tailored for each experiment - the academic that’s working with Learning Science can really focus on the learning outcomes they want to bring across through these reports.”
Dr. Ciorsdaidh Watts on new pre-lab interactives

The Results:

80%

increase in preparedness

Student-led evaluation projects showed that 90% of students felt prepared for the labs after using LearnSci LabSims, up from 50% in the previous year without these resources.

The online laboratory simulations (LabSims) and custom Smart Worksheets were found to enhance student confidence in the lab, make more efficient use of lab time and improve feedback delivery.

88%

satisfied with consistency of marking

Student surveys revealed significantly increased satisfaction from the previous year with the consistency of marking (88% up from 33%)

87%

satisfied with feedback

Student surveys revealed significantly increased satisfaction from the previous year with the detail of the feedback provided (87% up from 48%) in the Smart Worksheet post-labs.

Material for the following year's teaching labs was easily rolled out to new staff. Time invested upfront paid off and it was a seamless transition into the following academic year where more and more academics adopted Ciorsdaidh’s approach to incorporating technology enhanced learning and feedback.

Dr Ciorsdaidh Watts
"Learning Science have been extremely professional to work with and have been on hand to make edits, receive feedback, and make implementation as smooth as possible"
Dr. Ciorsdaidh Watts

Finally, how we met the COVID-19 challenge together

Like all educational institutions, the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020 brought about big changes at the University of Glasgow, which required quick adaptations to teaching. An already strong partnership allowed us to work with Ciorsdaidh and her colleagues to rapidly and effectively adapt their teaching materials for both wet and dry lab scenarios.

The positive effect of these resources were seen by multiple departments at the University of Glasgow. This led to the College of Medical, Veterinary and Life Sciences using Bioscience LabSims, the Smart Worksheet Collection and custom Smart Worksheets development scheduled for later this year.

“Circumstances remained uncertain until very close to the beginning of term 2020, and so as a school we had to plan, and adapt very quickly. We worked closely with Learning Science to put together a full package of online support and alternatives to the face-to-face labs that fitted our learning outcomes, budget, accessibility, and delivery requirements.”
Dr. Ciorsdaidh Watts
"I had a very positive experience of working with Learning Science. Without their input I would not have been able to offer the students such a professional-looking and engaging dry lab. The feedback from the third year students is that they enjoyed doing the dry lab.”
Dr. Joy Farnaby, Lecturer