Engaging learning and addressing over-assessment in the Science laboratory: solving a pervasive problem.

Ronan T. Bree, Karen Dunne, Bernadette Brereton, Gerry Gallagher, John Dallat


This small-scale, mixed-method research study aimed to improve the learning experience

for students in laboratory practical sessions. A sub-group of undergraduate Science

students performed the Biochemistry practical component using a range of innovative

integrated approaches over one semester, which included a reduction in the number of

laboratory reports performed and the introduction of a suite of in-class formative

assessments. Group-work and self-assessment activities were combined with a distinctive

incremental grading system designed to encourage feedback uptake. The outcomes of the

intervention were assessed using data collected by two mixed-method approaches in an

ethically approved manner: an online questionnaire and comparative focus groups.

Quantitative analysis of grades obtained from laboratory reports over the semester

demonstrated improvement in quality via uptake of feedback. Qualitative data obtained

from the questionnaire/focus groups was thematically analysed and triangulated. Results

showed the students engaged with, and implemented feedback, developed self-assessment

reflections on their work prior to submission and improved the quality of their laboratory

reports and theoretical understanding throughout this intervention. This study recommends

implementing the feedback approach, incremental marking system and the self-assessment

forms in teaching curricula. Together, they encourage the development of lifelong skills,

such as self-reflection and an always-improving attitude in students.


Assessment; undergraduate; incremental marking; feedback; self-assessment; learning experience; biochemistry; laboratory; practical; student centred learning.

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