Teaching Innovation Awards Winner

De Montfort University

Health and Life Sciences
Muhammed Allana, Parag Bhatt, Prof. Jo Rushworth, Aidan Barker, Dr. Paul Bremner, Nisha Valand, Dr. Ines Martins Ramos


For our final-year Biomedical Science dissertation project at De Montfort University, we have co-created the first Inclusive Avatar-Based Smart Worksheet. This innovative, student-designed tool is the first Smart Worksheet to allow students to practise the numeracy aspects of micro-pipetting.

We aimed to address several key issues in Higher Education; (1) supporting students with lost laboratory learning due to COVID-19, building their confidence in micro-pipetting through immediate formative feed-in, (2) supporting a diverse body of first year students transition to university, such that all students regardless of ethnicity, gender identity, age and nationality feel represented, and (3) thus promoting equality. The awarding and progression gaps based on ethnicity, gender, disability and age must urgently be addressed within HE science courses.

Using the principles of Universal Design for Learning (UDL), we designed ten avatars to reflect diverse student identities, each with personal pronouns and a diverse name bank (Figure 1A). We co-created our Smart Worksheet’s question bank using feedback from first year students and teaching staff to identify areas where students required practice and feedback (i.e. selecting the correct pipette, reading and setting the dials correctly) (Figure 1B). We constructed formative feed-forward using the principles of questioning to guide students if their initial attempt was wrong (Figure 1C). We worked with Aidan Barker (LearnSci) who created the final activity, along with our supervisor Prof Jo Rushworth and other teaching staff.

We released the activity to first year students studying Biomedical Science, Medical Science, Nutrition, and Pharmaceutical and Cosmetic Science (approximately 250 students in total). Students completed a pipetting MCQ and a pre- and post-activity survey (Likert scale 1-7 where 7 = strongly agree) and provided verbal comments. Preliminary data analysis revealed that students enjoyed the Smart Worksheet activity (median score = 6) and felt that it increased their confidence in micro-pipetting (median score = 6), with no significant differences based on ethnicity, age, gender, learning style or disability (Mann-Whitney U test; p>0.05). Students’ scores on a micro-pipetting MCQ test increased significantly by 12% on average after doing the activity (Mann-Whitney U test; p<0.0001). Students felt that the Smart Worksheet was inclusive and that their identity was represented in the resource (median score = 6). Students’ comments were extremely positive, as shown by word cloud representation (Figure 1C) and quotes (Figure 1D). We are in the process of completing full data analysis and writing up our dissertations; we will submit an abstract to the Horizons in STEM HE Conference (June 2022) and we will submit a manuscript to the Journal of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Education.

We are proud that our work is impactful and innovative, having involved various programmes across different departments, being the first student-created Inclusive Smart Worksheet, which uses avatars in a creative manner, and which we have shown to have a significantly positive and inclusive impact upon a large cohort of diverse students. This Smart Worksheet could be released nationally and internationally with the potential to increase equality and reduce attainment gaps worldwide, whilst supporting critical laboratory skills remotely.