University of Strathclyde

Overview

Summary

I implemented a series of pre-lab quizzes, which are low/no stakes exercises completed by students before attending a practical working environment, in this case a first year undergraduate chemistry teaching laboratory. Pre-labs can be supported by video demonstrations, resources which I have also created.

Context

Department of Pure and Applied Chemistry

Contact Details

Dr Patrick Thomson

https://www.strath.ac.uk/staff/thomsonpatrickdr/

Themes

Assessment and Feedback

Rationale 

Laboratory time is valuable, and teaching labs can be complex and expensive environments to maintain. It is important therefore that students are spending time on-task in the physical space, rather than conducting preparatory reading or writing. However, students very frequently attend labs with little or no preparation.

This gap in expectation was often traditionally addressed with a very comprehensive lab manual, partnered with exhortations to read such a manual before attending the lab. Those of us that work in a practical teaching space will be familiar with the inconsistent uptake of this advice.

Pre-lab quizzes have been widely used in chemistry labs outwith Strathclyde to address this gulf, and for ensuring students are properly briefed on the health and safety aspects of an experiment. In these quizzes, students are asked to answer questions about the upcoming experiment, often questions designed to test preparedness. The questions are constructed as formative assessments, although they often carry a low marks weighting to incentivise engagement.

Pre-lab quizzes are often supported with video demonstrations of common techniques, and videos can be used to support both cognitive tasks (such as explaining the underlying theory) and psychomotor tasks (such as how to operate an instrument), as well as meet health and safety requirements. Example screenshots of a video demonstration, and questions that cover all three types of task assessment, can be found below.

Successes

In my particular implementation, the quizzes were worth 10% of the mark for a particular experiment but were not a mandatory requirement of attending the laboratory. Uptake was extremely good, with 98% of students scoring at least 60% over all quizzes, and a 100% engagement rate from those that engaged with the rest of the course. Student feedback was positive, with most students finding the quizzes quick and unobtrusive, and the technique videos useful – this is in line with sector findings [1]. Student verbal and written feedback has been entirely positive.

The lab is supported by a group of postgraduate demonstrators, who reported that students seemed much more capable than previous years, with quotes such as: "I also think the pre-lab videos are very helpful for the students and new demonstrators alike!"


Challenges

The main challenge was finding time to create the video resources – it took a few days to borrow camera and lighting equipment and set up to film techniques. The written questions were extremely quick to put together, as they map directly onto well-known historical gaps in student knowledge.

Lessons Learnt

I would make more use Open Educational Resources for providing video or other interactive content for students to explore prior to attending the lab – other universities have already provided video clips of common techniques for free use.

Another option might be to use student-generated video – although this has its own pitfalls such as BYOD laboratory safety, it has been used successfully elsewhere and incorporates elements of peer support and social constructivism [2].

Scalability

These quizzes are taken every week by a cohort of ~250 students. By using automated assessment methods built into MyPlace, there is no administrative overhead. Quiz opening and closing times are set for laboratory groups in line with an experimental rota, and take a few hours of administrative time per year to set up due to the nature of the experimental rota.


Suggestions for Transferability

I feel this could be used in all disciplines where practical work is carried out in a specialised environment, not limited to the physical sciences. Colleagues in chemistry were already using pre-lab resources to support some experiments in other teaching labs, and some colleagues in other science and engineering departments had already independently adopted pre-lab quizzes or similar techniques.

References

  1. Agustian, H. Y.; Seery, M. K., Reasserting the role of pre-laboratory activities in chemistry education: a proposed framework for their design. Chemistry Education Research and Practice 2017,18 (4), 518-532.
  2. Jordan, J. T.; Box, M. C.; Eguren, K. E.; Parker, T. A.; Saraldi-Gallardo, V. M.; Wolfe, M. I.; Gallardo-Williams, M. T., Effectiveness of Student-Generated Video as a Teaching Tool for an Instrumental Technique in the Organic Chemistry Laboratory. Journal of Chemical Education 2016,93 (1), 141-145.

Attachments

  File Modified
PNG File prelab example screenshot.png Feb 07, 2018 by Alex Buckley
JPEG File prelab example video screeenshot.jpg Feb 07, 2018 by Alex Buckley