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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
increase in preparedness
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.
satisfied with consistency of marking
satisfied with feedback
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.
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.