University of Queensland’s chemistry team wins awards for innovation in online teaching resources

Our resources helped 1200 chemistry students delve deeper into their lab practicals at the University of Queensland.

The Challenge:

Ensure a continuous learning experience when students have limited contact time with course demonstrators in the lab

University of Queensland’s chemistry students take five practical lab modules per semester, which require preparation and successfully applying knowledge gained in one module to later modules. The pace of the course means that students need to get to grips with each one quickly. 

The university has tried online quizzes to consolidate the learning, but students find these are too rigid. It also takes a week or more to get the results back. This slow feedback is a barrier to students using the insight from one practical to prepare for the next.

In addition, the Chemistry department did a Blackboard based pre-lab quiz and provided a detailed lab manual, but this approach to get students ready for the laboratory has limitations. The pre-lab quiz uses paper result sheets that have to be handed in physically, marked by tutors by the next session, delaying feedback to the next in-person session with the course demonstrator. 

With approximately up to 1200 students per semester in the first year chemistry courses, the University of Queensland sought an approach to overcome this time-consuming back and forth process for a large cohort of students.

Queensland Challenge Quote Andrew
“We wanted to give students a chance to develop and learn. We had a focus group with students and tutors. Students appreciated the work we’d put in, the information in the lab manual, and the online resources. But, the nature of how we ran labs, meant students didn’t feel they had the chance to immerse themselves in each practical.”
Dr. Andrew Allsebrook

The Solution:

Instant feedback from online quizzes helped students gain knowledge and confidence at the right time

With the investment of a faculty teaching and learning grant, Dr Allsebrook was able to investigate our resources to improve pre and post-lab learning. 

By introducing Smart Worksheets, the University of Queensland found a new way to provide quizzes for students before and after each practical, integrated into the University’s Blackboard IMS. With this approach, first-year chemistry undergraduates were able to get instant feedback, helping to address common mistakes, build confidence and improve the quality of their responses.

The depth of our resources and the way they are used at Queensland continually evolves. Dr Allsebrook now sees students also using pre-lab quizzes in the lab for problem-solving.

Helping students to visualise laboratory techniques

Our online simulations gave students a method for in-depth exploration of lab skills. Before each practical, students can access the LabSims interactive resources integrated with their Blackboard course materials. These simulations help students visualise new equipment and techniques, which helps them to be better prepared upon arrival for their lab.

Students can also use these simulations when in the lab to confirm correct techniques. Key simulations are also incorporated into quizzes, and links to other simulations are provided in questions to encourage their use.


“The fact that Learning Science is a team of scientists and developers means that they understand the types of questions we want to ask.”
Dr. Andrew Allsebrook
“I found having the post-lab quiz much better than handing in the lab sheet. It gave more time to both do the experiment and answer and understand the questions during the quiz. I also used the labskills resources for every practical and found them helpful.”
First-year student feedback on post-lab quizzes.
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The Results:

40,000+ activities completed

The combined total of LabSims and Smart Worksheets used by the University of Queensland’s chemistry students in 2020

The large number of users was no barrier to the students accessing the new online resources. Although the activities were not compulsory, the students were quick to jump on board, with many of them using the resources multiple times.

The accuracy and depth of short answer results improved

Teaching staff report that replacing paper results sheets with online quizzes raised the standard of student responses.

Automatic marking has reduced this pressure on demonstrators

Reduced marking costs have offset the cost of designing, maintaining and administering pre- and post-lab quizzes.

The combination of bespoke pre and post-lab quizzes and interactive simulations has markedly improved outcomes for the first-year chemistry students at the University of Queensland.

Students are better prepared for exploring new techniques in the lab. Dr Allsebrook observes that before introducing our online tools, the final minutes of many lab sessions had been a scramble for students to record results. Now, if a practical goes well, there is plenty of time for students to record their results; and if the practical doesn’t go according to the script, our resources give the students time to reflect and record results calmly.

By referring to feedback in the pre-lab quizzes while in the laboratory, students have more confidence in their ability to analyse data. 

The flexibility of moving post-lab quizzes online removes deadline pressure, creating a positive learning laboratory environment and allowing reflection time. The ability to extend deadlines and the opportunity to type rather than write has increased the quality, accuracy and depth of open answers to reflective questions.

Dr Philip Sharpe
“Student preparedness for our first-year labs has always been of concern. The introduction of simulations has been a great help, as students now come into the lab with more understanding of the equipment and processes they will use. Online quizzes have enabled more timely feedback for students, and they are much more assured about what they are doing in the labs. One big advantage with the online quiz system has been the ability to break down complicated calculations into smaller chunks which students are more able to master.”
Dr. Philip Sharpe, Coordinator of First-Year Chemistry
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“Having 24 hours to submit post-lab quizzes was appreciated, as I know in previous years they had to be completed in the lab time.”
First-year chemistry student

Innovation in teaching resources leads to awards

Alongside the tangible benefit of improving their students’ experience and performance, Dr Allesbrook and his team have achieved wider recognition as a result of their online teaching innovation.

The chemistry teaching team has won a University of Queensland award for large course teaching and an Australian national award for its large course programme. 


Dr. Allsebrook has credited LabSims and Smart Worksheets with helping him progress the way his students learn: “Building on what we’ve done working with [Learning Science] and developing options for even more of our labs is the future for us.”

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