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Enhanced online learning environment for science practical teaching

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Contributor: Dr Ali Zarbakhsh
School: SBCS: Chemistry

Quick Summary

Laboratory work is an essential component of any science degree in higher education. This is to meet the demand to produce skilled graduates for industry and highly competent workers for research laboratories. Dr Zarbakhsh created a series of short videos to enhance ‘hands-on’ laboratory training for Chemistry undergraduates in a coherent and professional manner as part of a wider process of learning and also to reinforce the importance of professional conducts for working in a safe laboratory environment. This pilot study was carried out with second year undergraduate chemistry students.

 

Background

The teaching of a practical chemistry module has considerable challenges. These include safety considerations involved in running multiple practical sessions in parallel because of the necessity of accommodating large student cohorts in the Laboratory space.

Currently students undertake a pre-lab quiz in an E-learning environment for a given experiment on QMPlus prior to a lab session.  They have access to a set of comprehensive written instructions and are provided with feedback online.  Normally students arrive in the laboratory and after opening their copy of the manual, begin by reading the experiment description in a recipe fashion almost line by line. The correct and safe setup of equipment in combination with the an overall appreciation of the goal of the experiment, acquired in this fashion, is very time consuming and non-productive. It results in a constant questioning of demonstrators almost line by line using the script rather than a process of reflection about goals, aims and objectives in the context of laboratory work being undertaken.  Hence it is essential for the demonstrator to convey and state clearly the experimental aims, goals and objectives and most importantly, what are the intended outputs at different stages and possible pitfalls to be avoided and “what to look out for” at the beginning or ideally before the session.

Instead, in order to deliver an effective laboratory experience, SBCS introduced a short Lab Briefing before the start of a laboratory to complement the written instruction, to describe the practical activities which students undertake using chemicals and equipment in a chemistry laboratory. The outcome has shown that this is beneficial for professional conduct and enhances the Laboratory learning experience. These briefings however are currently carried out by different members of staff in an ad hoc manner and delivered in a relatively noisy Lab environment at the beginning of a session.

In order to improve the laboratory experience, short briefing videos using the ‘Recording Booth’ and short videos in the lab were created.

Methodology

In order to create these videos the E-learning Assistants recorded a series of introductions using the lab manual and recorded them in the ‘Recording Booth’ at Mile End. Further videos were also created and edited using Camtasia software to demonstrate experiments and how to use different equipment.

These materials, including supplementary materials such as explanations of clear outcomes at the different stages of an experiment, will also be used for the future training of postgraduate/staff who have been allocated as demonstrators. The materials produced will also be used as an example of good practice in requesting further funding to extend the project across all Chemistry Programmes. The videos are then uploaded onto the experimentals course for students to view.

Here is an example of a short briefing shown to students before the experiment on what they need to do:

Here is an example of a video which demonstrates the use of certain equipment:

 

Outcomes / Evaluation

Video-recordings and short briefings have shown to be much more successful in delivering a coherent, uniform and focused briefing to all our students, regardless of the sessions they have been allocated. These in person, online briefings deliver an overview of how the experiment is to be set up and carried out safely, the expected outcome and awareness of possible pitfalls and how to avoid them. Feedback demonstrates that this results in an orderly/well informed Laboratory experience for all our students.

Benefits

  • Saves times for demonstrators
  • Allows students to prepare prior to the lab and review the instructions.
  • Engaging and effective

Best Practices

  • The materials produced will also be used as an example of good practice in requesting further funding to extend the project across all Chemistry Programmes.

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