For the past few years, we have been experimenting with an e-learning approach to our introductory laboratory classes for first year students. Our overall objective was to maximise students’ useful time in the laboratory. We considered that time spent with students gathered around a desk watching a demonstration is not an efficient use of staff or students’ time.
It is well recognised that students’ performance in the laboratory can be enhanced if they are familiar with the background of the experiments which will be conducted, hence the use of ‘pre-labs’. We have been delivering our ‘pre-labs’ electronically by requiring students to work through a package before coming to the laboratory. As well as covering the theory and background to the experiment, short video clips have been included so that students will also have seen the experiment being performed. They should at least recognise the apparatus! The package concludes with a short assessment quiz which must be completed.
The packages were mounted on the University network using WebCT and meant that students could undertake the exercises at a time (and place) of their choosing rather than being confined to set laboratory hours.
This communication will describe the packages and our experiences as well as an initial evaluation of our approach. Although largely anecdotal, staff felt that they spent less time on more mundane aspects of laboratory work and more time discussing chemistry. Students also felt that they were better prepared for the experiments before they came to the laboratory. Some of the pitfalls and technical problems that had to be overcome will also be described.