Teaching Innovation Awards Winner
University of Glasgow
We have developed e-resources to support student transition into chemistry labs, with the aim to reduce student anxiety and improve confidence. Through innovative use of technologies, involving combinations of first-person video, 360° images and videos, interactive quizzes, we have virtually recreated our lab environment to provide stimulating and bespoke pre-lab support resources for our first-year classes.
The lab environment can be quite an overwhelming space, placing demands on student cognitive and sensory loads, and for some students navigating the social experience of the laboratory can prove an additional challenge. We have conducted investigations into what factors cause student stress during the practical experience, and began to measure the scale and impact of cognitive, sensory and social load issues in our labs. These insights, coupled with a strategy of staff-student co-creation to produce our e-resources, ensures that we are creating meaningful and targeted support for our classes. Through careful design of our e-resources, we aim to reduce cognitive load and manage expectations around sensory and social load when working in the lab, and therefore to reduce lab-related concerns for our cohorts.
The multimedia-rich support resources we have created offer our students a way to remotely explore our teaching spaces, familiarise themselves with equipment and chemicals, and become aware of hazards for each experiment. We have deconstructed the experience so students are aware of potential sensory triggers (lights, sounds, odours, movements) in advance of their experiment. Our e-resources complement our use of LearnSci LabSims for pre-lab support for specific techniques and apparatus, by offering a route for individuals to virtually explore our campus space and equipment on their own terms before even setting foot in the lab. We also introduce elements of fun and whimsy to our creations – we find that adding a bit of sparkle to our resources can boost student motivation and reduce the fear factor around the lab and instructors.
Our investigations have yielded interesting results that could inform educators beyond our institution and discipline. Forty-five per cent of students surveyed responded that they felt uncomfortable entering a new unseen teaching environment (21-22 survey). Most students entering our Synthesis-1 lab for the first time are overwhelmed by the content and as such have potential to be impacted by cognitive overload. Fewer students experience feelings of sensory and social overload than cognitive overload, however there are still triggers for some students (22-23 survey).
We have measured the impact of our e-resources, and found that the majority of students are positive about them. According to the results, all students believe that having the e-resource before starting the Synthesis 1 Lab module, as well as during, would help them adjust to Higher Education Chemistry labs and reduce the anxiety and fear caused by the transition by helping to manage expectations. We are continuing our investigations in these interlinked areas of cognitive, social, and sensory loads and of anxiety and confidence in the labs, in our quest to deliver further evidence-informed enhancements to our chemistry teaching practices.
We would like acknowledge our fabulous final year chemistry projects students, Peter Stockwell (22-23) and Kelly McGinn (21-22), whose project work contributed to our ongoing research.