The University of the Western Cape (UWC) began a partnership with LearnSci in January 2020 to prepare students for laboratory lessons. Limited educational resources in South Africa’s schools means students can have very little hands-on experience of working in a lab before university.
Through the introduction of our LabSims platform, UWC was able to level up undergraduates, so that lab work focused less on teaching students how to use equipment and more on curriculum learning.
To ensure all students start lab practicals confident how to use the equipment
The University of the Western Cape’s vision is to provide higher education access to talented young South Africans from the poorest communities, the vast majority of whom have limited access to technologies.
Many students entering UWC have not been near a laboratory or even witnessed the demonstration of a science experiment in their school career. So, to address this, the university has to equip students with the core skills to succeed in a lab environment.
An interactive online learning environment to prepare for the lab
UWC’s Faculty of Natural Sciences partnered with us to provide their students with pre-practical simulations and Smart Worksheets. Through these online tools, undergraduates were able to learn and practise techniques before even setting foot in a laboratory.
Implementing LabSims into the learning programme
Dr Juliet Stoltenkamp, Director of the Centre for Innovative Education and Communication Technologies (CIECT), led the integration of the LearnSci tools with UWC’s educational resources, making it accessible for students using UWC’s learning management system iKamva.
The CIECT team established a teaching and learning methodology where ‘LearnSci champions’, identified within the Faculty of Natural Sciences, were shown how to incorporate LabSims into iKamva (a Sakai-based platform).
The LearnSci champions were shown how to build a structured, interactive online laboratory environment, including a Pre-Lab section.
The simulations have been integrated into each degree course’s specific modules, enabling the lecturer to align them with discussion forums and assessments.
Using our interactive material has helped focus on practical techniques to better-prepare undergraduates before they enter the laboratory. As a result of this preparation, students need less time familiarising themselves in the lab; there is less waste of reagents and fewer breakages of equipment and glassware inevitable during the learning process.
LabSims used by over 1500 students
The Chemistry and Bioscience LabSims have had notable success engaging and building student confidence, especially for those students who had limited laboratory experience before entering the first year of their studies.
34,000 activities were undertaken in first few months of implementation
Bioscience and chemistry students completed over 72,000 LabSim activities
The resources supplement other learning activities, allowing students to see lab techniques and processes as many times as they need, helping them become more independent in the laboratory. So, with basic principles already covered, teaching staff had more time to enhance the learning experience, and as a result, student grades improved.
Successful implementation and regular use of these resources helped students complete hands-on practicals in shorter times. In the new academic year, under reduced capacity protocols due to COVID-19, this could enable more practicals to be completed in one day, supporting the most effective use of laboratory resources.
Giving life to courses during the pandemic
When undergraduate laboratories were closed at the start of South Africa’s COVID-19 lockdown, CIECT were pivotal in assisting lecturers in integrating the LabSims into their teaching modules, enabling them to effectively align the resources to a specific topic discussion forum and assessment. The development of remote learning options played a vital role in keeping students engaged with practical lab techniques.