LearnSci’s Student Survey 2021: how did it go and what did we learn?

Emily Coyte
April 21, 2022

LearnSci is committed to understanding the needs of your students who use our resources. As part of our mission to enable the next generation of STEM graduates to develop skills needed to make our world a better place, we wanted to build on our ongoing engagement and seek student feedback via a new kind of survey.

Survey design: how we did it, and how it went

We constructed this survey in collaboration with online survey expert Dr Tabetha Newman from Timmus Research Ltd, as well as Dr Leanne Williams from the University of Warwick for academic insight and obtaining institutional ethical approval. For this initial pilot we partnered with ten universities from across the UK, Spain and New Zealand to successfully run the survey for a month in late 2021.

We received 251 total student responses in total, from across year groups and with varying levels of practical experience and confidence. 21% of students self-identified as having additional or special learning needs. This shows we have a set of questions on which a wide range of students are happy to engage with us. 

In post-survey discussions, educators at partner institutions told us that they found the process “seamless” and “very straightforward”. Overall, this pilot survey’s question content and mode of delivery has established an additional way of gaining insight into students’ experience and perspectives of our resources.

Students recommend our resources

It’s clear from the results that students like our resources. When asked how much they would recommend LabSims and Smart Worksheets to other students:

  • Students awarded LabSims an average rating of 8.0 out of 10 (N=202), with 43% choosing ≥9.0 out of 10. 
  • Students awarded Smart Worksheets an average rating of 7.6 out of 10 (N=157), with 32% choosing ≥9.0 out of 10.

Note: All survey questions were optional, and students were only asked about resources which they specified they had used at least once. All responses were anonymous. 

As well as rating the resources, students also left written feedback which offered further insight into their answers:

No items found.

LabSims help students prepare for practicals and feel less anxious

LabSims are interactive resources designed to help students develop laboratory skills in a safe, risk-free environment. When students were asked how they would prefer to use LabSims, preparation for practicals was a clear winner with 90% (N=207) choosing this option.

In order to fully engage with labs and get the most out of their practical sessions, students need to understand the connection between taught theory and practical application of what they will be doing. 77% (N=206) of students agreed that LabSims help them to understand the reasoning behind practical steps. 

Low student confidence around labs is a frequent concern for educators, and has been exacerbated by the Pandemic Lab Experience Gap. Indeed, half of student respondents said they were “not very” or “not at all” confident about practical sessions before starting their university course. LearnSci LabSims help with this: 67% (N=206) of students agreed that LabSims help them feel less anxious about doing practical science. 

These findings resonate strongly with those of a recent educational research article from George-Williams et al in the Journal of Chemical Education. As part of this study, Year 1 chemistry students were asked about the effect LabSims had on their lab experiences. 77% of the 306 codeable free-text responses stated positive effects, with themes including that LabSims were a good visualisation of the techniques and helped ease them into labs by making them feel less anxious and more prepared.

A screenshot of the Rotary Evaporator LabSim. This interactive chemistry simulation allows users to interact with a visual representation of rotary evaporator equipment. The left side shows the air inlet, flash height, motor, water bath and vaccuum. The right has instructions that ask the user to make changes to the equipment and re-filter the sample.
Tools such as the Rotary Evaporator LabSim help students understand the importance of correct equipment set-up.

Students want Smart Worksheets throughout their course as revision and post-teaching activities

Our survey results show that 73% (N=171) of students agree that Smart Worksheets support them in developing their data handling and analysis skills. Demonstrating mastery in this key transferable area is highly-sought after by employers in scientific and other industries. 

Smart Worksheets are flexible online learning and assessment tools, and this is reflected in the split of how students would prefer to use them (multiple options allowed). The top answer to this question was that students wanted to use Smart Worksheets as a revision resource (62%). Our Smart Worksheet Collection has a wealth of practice resources students can use to develop their understanding on topics across chemistry and biosciences, as well as fundamental skills that students need across disciplines, including numeracy and precision.

The next top answer was from students who wanted to use Smart Worksheets after teaching sessions (59%). As auto-graded post-lab solutions, Smart Worksheets can include multi-step calculations, interpretation questions and dynamic graphing and data visualisation. They can even help close attainment gaps, all while reclaiming your academic time from repetitive marking.

66% of students agreed that Smart Worksheets help their lecturers identify their needs and so support them better. This is aided greatly by the Timeline feature which allows both you and the student to scroll through their Smart Worksheet learning journey, spot errors and review the effective feedback they received along the way.

A screenshot of a Smart Worksheet, and advanced digital worksheet. The worksheet features an example of a Curly Arrow Mechanism question that has been answered incorrectly, and the corresponding feedback generated by the worksheet which reads 'Incorrect. This step is deprotonation. Which nucleophillic species is going to deprotonate the molecule? Try again.
Instant, targeted feedback from Smart Worksheets means students can apply learning straight away, helping them practise and master key skills, prepare for assessment, and solidify concepts covered in the lab.

Onwards and upwards: What’s coming in 2022

We would like to thank all the students and educators at the ten partner institutions who participated in this survey. It was a small initial study, but it  generated a lot of interesting and useful data to work with. The success of this means that we’re already planning future surveys for 2022 and beyond. We’re keen to get even more responses across student cohorts and to tailor the questions based on what we’ve learned. 

In combination with user testing and the amazing insights we get from our academic Community of Practice, this will help us co-create the best resources possible for your students. 

We’ll be rolling out the 2022 survey more widely for an even broader reach and to further strengthen the quality of the data. Following discussions with survey partners, we’ll be looking at running our next survey across a semester instead of a month, providing the flexibility to decide when and how best to distribute the survey to students within this timeframe.

Partner institutions have received a more in-depth report of survey findings, as well as targeted insight into how their students specifically are using our resources and how they feel about them. If you’d like to get involved with future student surveys, please get in touch with your LearnSci contact or email; we’d be happy to hear from you.