Do digital pre-lab resources improve students’ experience of lab work? – by Joseph Berry (HEFi)

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As part of the Collaborative Teaching Laboratory (CTL) project the University is investing in digital pre-lab resources. These resources will be in three main formats: instructional videos, virtual labs and 360-degree lab tours.

Instructional videos aim to demonstrate either a specific technique or an entire practical procedure. Virtual labs are interactive resources, often two-dimensional simulations, which allow students to try a practical before they get into the real lab. 360-degree tours are either photos or videos of labs with embedded content so students can click on a piece of equipment to learn more about it.

But what is the evidence that these resources improve students’ experiences in the lab?

Abdulwahed and Nagy (2009) found two benefits of using virtual labs. First they identified improved conceptual understanding, and second they found that pre-labs reduced students’ cognitive load. They explained these findings using Kolb’s experiential learning cycle, mapping the use of a virtual prelab onto the Kolb stages of reflective observation, active conceptualization and active experimentation.

Others studies focus on the experiential benefits that pre-lab videos can offer to students.

Jolley et al (2016) suggest that although videos do not necessarily lead to a direct improvement in academic performance, students do report feeling better prepared and that the resources had a positive effect on their learning in general. Jolley et al propose that if positive student experiences in the lab are important then these findings justify the investment in pre-labs videos.

Finally, a thought from one of our own undergraduates when asked about the impact of a pre-lab video in Biosciences: “Pre-lab videos increase confidence going into a lab, as you can ask more detailed questions as to what’s happening metabolically for example in an API strip, rather than spending time asking mundane questions about how to fill a cupule or such questions.”

Abdulwahed, M. and Nagy, Z.K., 2009. Applying Kolb’s experiential learning cycle for laboratory education. Journal of Engineering Education, 98(3), pp. 283-294.

Jolley, D.F., Wilson, S. R., Kelso, C., O’Brien, G. and Mason, C. E. (2016) Analytical Thinking, Analytical Action: Using Prelab Video Demonstrations and e-Quizzes To Improve Undergraduate Preparedness for Analytical Chemistry Practical Classes. Journal of Chemical Education, 93 (11), pp. 1855-1862

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