LabSims help the University of Nottingham’s School of Pharmacy to enhance lab practice and training for postgraduate students

Educators at the University of Nottingham were already familiar with our LabSims, having used them to support their undergraduate courses. When labs were forced to close due to the pandemic, teaching staff needed to provide additional support to pharmacy postgraduate research students (PGRs), who were unable to access labs for critical practice and training, and were suffering from a loss of confidence. Dr Anna Maria Piccinini, Assistant Professor and Director of PGR Training in the School of Pharmacy, developed two learning resources using our LabSims to support PGRs in regaining their confidence and preparing them for the lab.

The Challenge:

PGRs were losing confidence in their ability to work effectively and safely in the lab

Postgraduate study is a pillar of the University of Nottingham’s vision for delivering world-class research and education. Research skills training and lab practice are integral to doctoral training programmes, normally involving witnessing in-person demonstrations of how to operate specialist equipment and perform techniques.

The impossibility of accessing the University’s facilities for approximately five months during the Covid-19 pandemic, and the reopening of the labs with restrictions, meant that most research training could not be provided in-person. This took a serious toll on the motivation and mental health of PGRs, as many found themselves working from home, changing the focus of their projects and with their self-confidence in lab practice undermined.

Nottingham challenge
A group of postgraduate students particularly badly affected from not being able to access the labs were new starters in their first year of postgraduate work. So often they had either no or very limited lab experience, and coming back to the lab after such a long time, they were no longer familiar with planning and carrying out experiments, even those involving simple procedures. As director of postgraduate training in my School, and as a supervisor of postgraduate students, I was very aware of how distressed students were about this.
Dr Anna Maria Piccinini

The Solution:

LabSims were integrated into two learning resources available to students anywhere

To solve the problem, the School of Pharmacy developed two learning resources - “PGR Biosciences Lab Shots” and “PGR Chemistry Lab Shots” - using LearnSci LabSims. Educators introduced the Lab Shots to the students, explaining their purpose and that students could access them from anywhere, at any time. All pharmaceutical science students, on both taught and research programmes, were able to use the resources.

Visualisations within the LabSims were key to the students regaining their confidence

The Lab Shots were integrated into dedicated Moodle pages and were concise, engaging and easy to follow. Along with reading literature to understand the method and equipment, students were able to use the short, clear, interactive animations to visualise the demonstrations and enhance their knowledge via quick quizzes during the session. This aided their understanding of both theory and practical aspects of the techniques, and gave them the feeling of having done the experiment without actually being in the lab, even once labs began to reopen. 

Below are two screenshots of the Biosciences Lab Shots; the first at the time of restricted access to labs and the second illustrating how they have been developed now that labs have re-opened. PGR students can still use the resources to support their training or as refresher and the inclusion of LabSims can clearly be seen in both.

The Lab Shots page when access to labs was restricted
The Lab Shots page now that labs have re-opened
Happy Face
"Along with reading literature to understand the method/equipment, we can watch instructions/videos and enhance our knowledge via quick-quizzes during the session. It’s very helpful for new users who cannot come to the lab during the Covid-19-pandemic."
PGR student, School of Pharmacy

The Results:

PGRs feel these digital resources have been critical to support their training and lab practice

helping them feel prepared for re-entering the lab as restrictions lift

Students immediately showed interest in the Lab Shots, and the number of activities undertaken in the first months of implementation speak for themselves, proving how valuable students found them.

Over 900 activities were undertaken in the first nine months of implementation

among a community of 179 postgraduate students in the University of Nottingham’s School of Pharmacy

Importantly, usage of the resources did not drop over time, as students chose to continue using them. 

Beyond PGRs in the School of Pharmacy, the impact of the Lab Shots has also been recognised elsewhere within the University: 

a) the technical team in the School requested to enrol technicians in the training resources; and 

b) the Faculty of Science’s Digital Learning Team invited Dr Piccinini to present at the ‘Academic Community of Practice’, where other Schools such as Biosciences expressed interest in also adopting the resources.

Finally, Dr Piccinini applied to LearnSci’s Teaching Innovation Awards for 2021, and we were pleased to award her an Honourable Mention, recognising her outstanding innovative practices in teaching and learning through the introduction of the Lab Shots.

 Dr Anna Maria Piccinini
"Always accessible everywhere, these resources have added flexibility to PGR training, allowing students to safely prepare for the lab and regain self-confidence"
Dr Anna Maria Piccinini
PGR student, School of Pharmacy
"I accessed the Sandwich-ELISA resource from the PGR-Biosciences-Lab-Shots library as face-to-face training was to be avoided during Covid-19-restrictions. As a result, I felt much more confident when discussing the technique with my supervisor and undertaking ELISAs for the first time on my own in the lab."
PGR student, School of Pharmacy

To talk to us about how you could integrate our resources into your learning platform, please contact us. We would be delighted to discuss the possibilities with you.

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