Written by Dr Nicky King
Our project kicked off in earnest at the start of August as the race was on to get materials ready for the start of term next week for the new 1st year Natural Sciences and Biosciences students. We’re working with Learning Science https://www.learnsci.co.uk/ to build bespoke Smart Worksheets for assessing practicals. Learning Science have done a great job taking our existing practicals and assessments and turning them into online assessments which not only streamline marking but also provide greatly enhanced feedback to our students. For me however it’s been a fantastic opportunity to think about what we assess, how we assess it, and why we do it in a certain way. So often the answer is ‘because that’s how we’ve always done it’ but this has been a real incentive to think again about learning outcomes and what exactly it is that we want students to take away from a lab class. Just because we’ve always assessed in a certain way is not a good reason to keep doing it.
What do I want my students to get out of their laboratory classes? An enhanced understanding of the science, inquiry and research skills, numerical and data analysis skills, but also, significantly enthusiasm for experimentation and a love of practical science. Getting the students to write a traditional, fairly prescriptive, formal lab report is an important skill for them to develop but do we have to do this every time?
For one of my chemistry experiments, investigating the oxidation states of Vanadium, I’ve now dropped the formal lab report and developed a Smart Worksheet which the students can complete in the lab, in real time, as they do the experiment. Performing calculations and checking their data quality as they go, consolidating their understanding of the underpinning science, and getting immediate feedback online in an environment where they can also speak to me if there are still things they are unclear about. Surely this is better than sitting down 10 days later to write a lab report when they’ve already forgotten some of the finer details because their lab book records aren’t perfect, and then getting feedback another 3 weeks later when their minds have long since moved on to other things. I’m looking forward to hearing what the students think.