Biblio >> Enhancing assessment & the student learning experience in undergraduate science laboratory sessions

Enhancing assessment & the student learning experience in undergraduate science laboratory sessions

TitleEnhancing assessment & the student learning experience in undergraduate science laboratory sessions
Publication TypeConference Proceedings
AuthorsBree RT
Conference NameLIN SLL National Symposium 2016
Date Published10/2016
PublisherLearning Innovation Network (LIN ) & Student Led Learning (SLL)
Conference LocationDublin

During their degree, Science undergraduates spend a significant amount of time in the laboratory developing practical and communication skills. However, the format of these sessions has often remained expository, with students following a recipe-like manual to reach a pre-determined outcome - a process lacking self-reflection, thinking and contextualisation. Assessment procedures have also limited student development. Writing one report per lab session amounts to 240 reports over a 3-year degree in an Institute of Technology – this represents significant over-assessment. Students become completely engrossed with the quantity, and not the quality, of writing lab reports. This leads to understanding of the scientific concept in a practical session and/or skill development being overlooked. With this number of lab reports, one would expect students to achieve high marks repeatedly. However, many are only interested in the mark awarded and not reflecting on the feedback provided – hence, improvement is not always visible.

This CPD project focused on improving the student learning experience in practical sessions on several levels. The number of lab reports per subject, per semester, was reduced from 10 to 4. In order to achieve the project goals, i.e. make these reports more effective, promote feedback engagement and witness improvements over a semester, an incremental marking system was designed. This involved reports being worth 4%, 7%, 9% and 10% respectively. Time-slots for feedback review and discussion were implemented. Self-assessment forms were introduced allowing students to self-reflect on their reports before submission. Here the students had to identify the strengths, weaknesses and areas for improvement. Skills set tests were introduced with peer assessment elements, allowing practical skill development. In addition, the lab manual was revised introducing questions to examine knowledge, understanding and application of the lab principles. An animation summary can be viewed here:

This project has impacted significantly on numerous levels, namely students, staff and the wider community.
• Student Impact: With this innovative system, the quality of lab reports and basic practical skills improved. Mistakes were no longer being repeated and errors were being corrected, demonstrating students were now engaging with and realising the value and role of feedback, i.e. to feed-forward. Students were also self-assessing, proof-reading, and improving their work before submitting, often adding extra text/comments. Another benefit is that this approach allows students to adapt to different lecturer/module requirements easily without any mistakes being too costly with the first submission. Overall, this impact on their assessment literacy was evident through the engagement with feedback, behaviour and performance. 
• Staff Impact: The incremental marking system and the reduction in the number of lab reports have been implemented by other staff members, allowing students to improve submissions in other modules. In addition, submitted elements of the CPD course from the author have been used as exemplars for staff members who since signed up to the course. Since graduating, the author has presented several times to the other staff cohorts participating in the CPD course on his experiences.
• Wider impact and Sustainability: The study has been published in a peer-reviewed journal in the learning and teaching arena, ensuring the concepts, benefits and impact of the study can extend its reach globally. The paper includes resources such as rubrics, focus group questions, survey questions to assist others in its implementation and evaluation. The concepts addressed in this innovation evolved in to a successful School application to the National Forum for the Enhancement of Teaching and Learning. This project, being performed across four partner institutions is focused on improving technology enhanced assessment methods in Science and Health practical settings, facilitating change and improvements in the wider sense.

Refereed DesignationRefereed