Project introduction and background information
BML (Molecular Life Sciences) and BBT (Biotechnology) are programs with a broad scope of disciplines, of which organic chemistry is just one. Every discipline has its own specific lab skills. In the first year, several basic lab skills in organic chemistry are introduced to our students (e.g. crystallisation, extraction, distillation). Much of this knowledge is not activated in other courses. So, by the time the students enroll in 2nd year chemistry courses, the skills need refreshing. Furthermore, compared to BML students, BBT students have less lab time for organic chemistry in their 1st year curriculum. Therefore, the starting level in the 2nd year is not equal. Refreshing the skills from the first year, which is needed to bring all students up to speed in the 2nd year, takes a lot of time from the lab supervisors. This limits the time supervisors can spend on educating the content and learning outcomes that are part of the second year. With this innovation project, we introduce an online learning module, which refreshes the student’s memory with respect to the fundamental principles of organic chemistry lab skills.
In this education innovation project, we will design an online learning module that helps students to refresh their knowledge on 1st year skills and be well-prepared before entering the lab in the 2nd year. It can be taken off-campus, but it is also possible to take it during contact hours in a PC room with a supervisor available for support. This module will be able to supply a fitted learning experience for students with different starting levels. Besides obligatory items (e.g. on safety), it will offer several information sources, which students can either study in detail or skim through. It gives autonomy to students, whereas guidance is provided in the form of test questions. These questions will be taken at the start of the module, showing students their knowledge gaps. Automatically provided feedback will direct them to the appropriate information sources to study. Furthermore, an assessment will be taken at the end of the module. This can be used as a prerequisite to gain access to the lab. For example: >75% correct = GO; <75% correct = first discuss with a supervisor. The module will contain knowledge clips, information on theoretical background of various lab skills and procedural information (step-by-step). Also practical information on glassware, safety and waste management will be included. Focus will be on connecting the why and the how of specific techniques, which are closely related. Theoretical knowledge can be translated into procedural steps. This insight is required in the lab room and it is exactly what will be build and tested in this module. When students understand what they are doing before they start, they can better master the skill. Instead of following cookbook-procedure (= 1st year learning outcome), they can develop the ability to fine-tune the technique themselves (= 2nd year learning outcome).
Objective and expected outcomes
With this education innovation project, we wanted to achieve that students are re-acquainted with previously learned practical skills and well-prepared before entering the lab. If they have beforehand the confidence of knowing what they are going to do and how they will do this, it will help them focus on the imminent experiment. It will prevent a situation of cognitive overload, in which the desired learning outcomes are not reached.
A second aim was that the supervising staff is not using much of their time to refresh 1st year knowledge and has more time for teaching 2nd year content.
Results and learnings
The better preparation of the students before entering the practical room is a big advantage, noticeable in two main areas: the increase in confidence level of students and the decrease of time spent by supervisors on refreshing (=> time than can be spent on 2nd year learning outcomes).
There were 8 supervisors with several years of experience in this particular course. They all confirmed that the number of questions in the first week relating to the refreshment of 1st year skills were notedly less than previous years. More time was spent on 2nd year learning outcomes.
The supervisors did not necessarily see an increase in the skill level compared to previous years. However, they did notice that the desired skill level was reached at an earlier stage. The remaining practical time was used to consolidate this level and to establish a better linkage to the cognitive learning outcomes of this course.
Furthermore, it was observed that students were more aware about their preparation. Students BBT and BFT have less lab time in their first year curriculum. As a result of the refreshment module they were more confident in starting the experiments and more successful in learning the skills.