Enhancing precious in-person lab time - Key takeaways from LearnSci Webcasts

February 6, 2023

How do you make lab time as valuable as possible for students, especially when they may have limited time in the lab due to budget, capacity or timetable constraints? 

This week on the LearnSci Webcasts, we were joined by Dr Jessica Goodman from University Centre Shrewsbury and Dr Sharon Williams from Coventry University to explore this challenge, and suggest ways to enhance this precious lab time.

Key thoughts from our guests about making the most of lab time:

  • Communication can be difficult when there's so many students to one demonstrator or instructor. With around 15 students to a staff member, there isn't a chance to talk to every student, so it's essential to streamline communication before, during and after using as many methods as possible to ensure students know what they are doing and where to seek help.
  • Providing resources and sessions pre and post-lab is beneficial and makes the lab more efficient. It ensures students arrive with a base level of knowledge, and you can spend more time on advanced questions and additional activities.
  • Ensure students have a base level knowledge before they work in the lab. Even with pre-lab information, safety briefs in the lab are important for avoiding dangers. The benefit is that these work along with interactive activities such as quizzes and lab simulations to help solidify knowledge of safety and techniques.

“I make sure that in the workshop we go over what we're going to do in the lab before getting to the lab, which saves us a lot of time, making sure that they know what the procedures are.”
Dr Sharon Williams, Coventry University
“We do provide lots of material in advance, but one of the things that you can't really replace is reiterating that information face to face. So we give a safety brief every lab session that we provide because you can't necessarily rely on the students to always read the safety brief in advance”
Dr Jessica Goodman, University Centre Shrewsbury

Top Tips for educators to enhance lab time

  1. Utilising technology can help speed up processes. Online quizzes on COSHH or practising techniques with simulations means the lab work can begin at home. Sharon also mentions switching from paper to tablets to communicate schedules, and TV screens to remind students of safety information. This means less time spent having to worry about physical materials or reminding them where to put hazardous waste.
  2. Making the most of labs means helping students before and after the labs. Pre-labs help students feel more confident and begin their tasks faster, but post-lab activities help students apply their lab knowledge effectively. This could be a debrief at the end of the lab session or via their VLE, or formative lab report assignments that are based on helping them bridge the practical skills with the lab with analytical and interpretation skills. So, the learning continues to extend even after the physical lab session has ended.
  3. Create channels where students can share their worries and opinions before or at the start of a lab, meaning the session can be focused on science. Jess offers a questionnaire that students can submit with any questions, from safety to confidence, which means she knows how to reassure them and ensure that lab sessions are effective.

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Resources and Links

Thank you to Sharon and Jess for joining us on this week’s webcast and sharing your experiences with our community. You can view the full webcast recording and the rest of our series on our YouTube channel, and join the conversation on Twitter at #LearnSciWebcasts!

Next time, we’re joined by Dr Ryan Mewis and Dr Dino Spagnoli to discuss teaching larger cohorts. Want to be the first to know? Subscribe to our mailing list for the latest updates.