Preparing students for science practical sessions: engaging with digital resources to enrich the learning experience

Ronan T. Bree


A key element in any science based module is its practical component.  Here, students can acquire and develop hands-on skills in a powerful learning environment.  In addition, during these sessions, they engage with group work, assessment including self-assessment, feedback, academic writing, problem solving and metacognitive skills.


Whilst many educators have focused on the design/format of their practical session and on the accompanying assessment strategies employed, only recently has the preparation for practicals come to the fore.  Traditionally, students are required to read pre-prepared text in a paper-based laboratory manual before entering the session.  The text provides background to the principle/theory/technique being examined.  However, in the majority of cases, this text is not read leading to a lengthy compulsory pre-practical talk being required, reducing practical learning time. 


Pre-lecture resources were previously shown to benefit learners by reducing cognitive load.  In a study by Seery and Donnelly (2012), students engaged with introductory eResources and quizzes before lectures with results highlighting the approach made it difficult to determine which students had, or did not have, prior knowledge of the particular subject area.  In the innovation described in this paper, the pre-lecture concept was transferred to the practical environment.  A customised pre-practical video was recorded, edited and circulated to students prior to a laboratory session.  Students were advised to view the video and complete a smartphone app-based quiz on the video content, before their practical session.  Thirty-nine second year molecular bioscience students took part in the innovation and were invited to volunteer in the evaluation of the study via an anonymous online questionnaire.  Twenty-seven students participated and provided feedback on their experience.  Overall, there was significant engagement with the approach, with students recognising the value of viewing the pre-practical video and performing the quiz with regard to their learning and understanding.  This paper presents an overview of the approach implemented, insights from its evaluation, and recommendations for educators aiming to implement the pre-practical concept. 



pre-practical, science education, online, mobile quiz, video, preparation

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