from Dr. Julie Dunne, School of Food Science and Environmental Health, College of Science, Dublin Institute of Technology.
‘To change the experience, you don’t need to change the experiment, just what you do with it.
It is recognized that traditional ‘recipe-style’ laboratories are good for developing lab skills and helping students to interpret results, but they fall short on developing many other important skills, such as critical thinking, context based learning, and creativity. They also do not aim to develop other important employability skills which Yorke describes in terms of management of self, others, information and task. This includes personal qualities such as self-awareness, self-confidence, independence, adapting to new challenges, initiative; core skills such as information retrieval, critical analysis, creativity, written and oral communication, including explaining; and process skills such as problem solving, prioritising, planning, and applying subject understanding.
However, for academics, it can be daunting to consider revamping the tried and tested lab manual. The experiments run well in your lab, the technician knows the quirky tips for trouble-shooting, the chemicals are in stock, the equipment is available.
So how can we add value to the experience for students and be able retain years of experimental know-how?
The following describes what I do for a semester 1 module. It works well for me and the technician, and my 2nd and 3rd year students see the benefit. It has taken a few attempts to iron out problems, but is now working well. I adapt the strategy for the follow on semester 2 module (more of that again..)
In short, I put the students in charge…
The students are given a tried and tested experimental method. Working in groups of 4 or so, students take turns to assume the role of the instructor- they plan, organise and run a laboratory session for the rest of the class. The task involves the following duties:
- Health and Safety risk assessment
- Researching the background of the experiment
- Preparing a pre-practical presentation, including introduction to the practical, the method, and the safety
- Liaising with the technician/lecturer to organize consumables/ equipment/ glassware
- Giving the pre-practical presentation
- With the assistance of the lecturer, aiding the smooth running of the lab
- Giving post-practical session, including managing results
The breakdown of assessment is presented in Table 1. The peer assessment required students to complete a form evaluating their group members on a scale of one to four for aspects specifically relating the their performance in the group work, and included: attended meetings, actively participated in activities, helped others, helped to keep to the task timeframe, had positive attitude and was respectful of others views, and contributed to the final presentation.
Table 1. Assessment
|Running the lab||Overall planning and organisation, pre-practical presentation||30%|
|Anonymous peer assessment||20%|
|Laboratory reports||Weekly group laboratory reports (six in total)||20%|
|Final individual laboratory report||30%|
- Weekly feedback sessions. Peer and tutor feedback on lab reports
- At the end of the module, the feedback from the weekly sessions was summarised and recorded by the lecturer using Audacity (see MK Seery blog on podcasting for tips)
- Face-to-face feedback with the groups immediately following their running the lab, discussing their performance throughout the process.
Following implementing this modal for chemistry laboratories, the majority of students believed that their employability skills, including teamwork, organisation, communication and research had improved. As these skills are transferable in nature, they can be applied to a wide range of activities beyond the immediate task. In combination with a second semester module which aimed to give students choice and input into experimental design, the students felt better prepared to embark on work placement and final year projects.
For a more extensive description of this project, please see:
Dunne, J.L. Edulearn 2011, 4622-4630 Putting the student in charge: Adding value to the food chemistry laboratory through student generated experiments, integration of transferable skills, and peer and audio feedback. (ISBN: 978-84-615-0441-1)
Paper can be accessed at the following site: http://arrow.dit.ie/schfsehcon/6/
Carnduff, J. and Reid, N. (2003) Enhancing Undergraduate Chemistry Laboratories, London: The Royal Society of Chemistry, ISBN 0-85404-378-0
 Bennett, S. W. & O’Neale, K. (1999). Progressive development of practical skills in chemistry. Cambridge: Royal Society of Chemistry.
 C Mc Donnell, C O’Connor and MK Seery, Developing practical chemistry skills by means of student-driven problem based learning mini-projects, Chem. Educ. Res. Pract., 2007, 8(2), 130 – 139.
 Yorke, M. (2004) Employability in Higher Education: What it is – What it is Not: Learning and Employability Series