Preparing for the lab using a digital manual

Course Molecular Techniques
Lecturer Richard de Boer
Context A molecular biology practical course in which students work on one long experiment and continue each day with their own research materials, illustrated with a few bio-informatics tools
Challenge Students came unprepared to the laboratory and had difficulty grasping the bigger picture for the whole experiment
Intervention We set up an e-learning environment using LabBuddy in which we made a digital lab manual
Evaluation Students indicated they liked working with labbuddy and the setup of the course helped them in making the right choices
Related Topics Student activationInteractive & adaptive course material,

Interview with Richard de Boer

Can you tell something about your course before the innovation?
Students came unprepared to the laboratory and had difficulty grasping the bigger picture for the whole experiment. Somewhere along the practical they started to understand the purpose of each of the experiments instead of first making a good experimental design and thinking about the bigger picture.

What intervention was chosen?
We set up an e-learning environment using LabBuddy in which we made a digital lab manual. All protocols and theory were digitized and illustrated with movies. At the start of the practical, students had to set up their own experimental design for the whole experiments and, along the line, had to answer questions about the theory and decisions they had to make.

Did it solve the issue?
Yes, students had a much better understanding of the whole experiment and understood much better how each of the experiments were related to each other.

What was the students’ experience?
The students were very positive. They indicated they liked working with labbuddy and the setup of the course helped them in making the right choices.

Are you going to use it again?
Yes, I very much plan on using it again. In fact, I would like to take it to the next level by no longer planning the experiments for the students anymore. This year, the students had to make their own experimental design, but afterwards they all had to do the same experiments in the same order on the same day. I would like to go further by just providing the students with the materials and protocols, and give them a set amount of time for the experiments, but no longer plan each day for them. Also to encourage preparing more, I will no longer provide them with specific protocols, but rather the generic protocols that they need to make specific for their situation. This way, they need to think about the way an experiment is set up. This will much better prepare them for the bachelor project.

How much (extra) work did it cost you?
Setting up the digital lab manual does cost a lot of time. The company behind the LabBuddy system can do a lot of this work for you, but this will cost money, and still requires a lot of input from the teacher, especially when it comes to the course setup. Digitizing a protocol is quite easy, but integrating it into a whole course in the way you want takes a bit more time. However, the benefits do outweigh this in my opinion.

Do you recommend this approach to other lecturers?
I do recommend this to other practical courses. One of the benefits of a digital manual is the extra information that is very readily available to the students. This takes many of the questions away from the assistants and gives them more time to talk about the experiment and the theory behind the experiments. Also because the students have to think about the whole setup of the experiments, instead of handing them a “cookbook”.

Impression

 

e-learning for applied mathematics


Summary


Course Linear Algebra for Artificial Intelligence and Informatics
Lecturer Leo Dorst
Context Basic linear algebra, from vectors to matrix decomposition (SVD) and least squares techniques for a large group of 400 students
Challenge Not enough time/opportunity to provide students with enough feedback on the basics
Design e-learning exercises about the basics with automated feedback
Evaluation Students kept up their basic skills and the TA’s could focus on the difficult parts
Related Topics Digital formative assignments and feedbackLarge groupsHeterogeneityInteractive & adaptive course material

Interview with Leo Dorst

Can you tell something about your course before the innovation?
The students needed to keep up with the fundamentals, in time for the next lecture, but we could only give them feedback on homework once a week, whereas the lectures were twice a week. Also, correcting the basics is not the best use of a TA’s time. And the students tended to plagiarize because of this.

What intervention was chosen? 
Part of the homework, at the basic drill level, became SOWISO exercises to be completed before the next lecture. Some points could be earned by this.

Did it solve the issue?
Yes, students kept up their basic skills, TAs could focus on the next level in the werkcollege and the paper homework. And the randomization made it personal.

What was the students’ experience?
Students liked it, and the distribution of final grades became more of a bell-curve (around 7) whereas earlier it tended to be rather uniform.

Are you going to use it again? If yes, what would you change in the next iteration?
I already did. And I also tried one year to make part of the exam ‘SOWISO-corrected’, in order to correct it more quickly. This I will not repeat, but rather try using ANS – it was hard to ask reasonable exam questions in SOWISO.

How much (extra) work did it cost you? Does it outweigh the benefits?
I actually first did this in ONBETWIST, using mostly exercises that were already present there. Those were translated to SOWISO; the effort was not done by me. It was definitely worth it, and not only for me: now we have lots of LA drills in SOWISO.

Do you recommend this approach to other lecturers?
Yes, for subjects that are amenable to this. In fact, I already did, and Calculus and Statistics (by Homburg and van Es) followed the e-drill principle (directly to SOWISO rather than via ONBETWIST).

Is there anything else you’d like to add?
There was great supportive help from Henk Kuijpers (ONBETWIST), and from André Heck, Marthe Schut and Jolien Oomens (SOWISO) to enable both the e-drills and the trial with the exams. This was a big surprise, it is rare to have colleagues in such an innovation. It made this innovation much easier than I had ever thought it would; it should be better-known that you do not have to do these innovations by yourself.

 

Impression of the e-drills