Deeper laboratory learning with Labdog
One downside to my role is that I rarely get to use technology directly with students, so I really welcome opportunities to observe the tools that I recommend to promote learning being used; thereby improving my understanding and guidance for staff. Also welcome are opportunities to see something completely new and full of possibilities…
And so last week I stood in a Chemistry practical for Science Foundation Year students, slightly alarmed at being beckoned to a table by earnest students. Safety glasses and a white coat do not make a chemist! But then, what does? If you can reliably follow a recipe and reproduce a dish that looks (and tastes) like you were told it would, does that make you a chef? Perhaps. But a master chef will use a good understanding of ingredients and processes to create new dishes, improvise with limited resources and use suitable substitutes if needed. Attending a practical class and following a ‘recipe’ might demonstrate a student’s ability follow directions, but how do you train them to be masters of their craft? That’s where Labdog comes in.
I’m actually not going to say too much about Labdog itself. For two reasons. One; it’s creator, Tom Wilson (PhD student and all-round smashing human being) has already written about it on his blog. Two; Tom writes beautifully. Go on, treat yourself; read the article and enjoy the prose. I apologise that the rest of this post is in my style. I’ll quote the original in case you are short on time:
Labdog is a web-app designed to promote learning in the chemical teaching laboratory. It allows students to go through a practical using a step-by-step lab-script on a phone, tablet, or laptop.
Labdog’s goal is to have students focus on the practical from a scientific point of view. During the practical it promotes focus and readability for the student, and real-time data for teacher means that students’ progress (and requests for help) can be seen as they happen.
Tom’s latest post has more detail since Labdog “first went for ‘walkies’…” 18 months ago. Well worth a read.
About the Lab practical
In the Practical class I observed, which covered measuring enthalpy changes, there were 22 students. The skills associated with the practical (and communicated to the students) were:
|Correct use of a top pan balance||Drawing a results table|
|Correct use of a measuring cylinder||Plotting a graph|
|Correct use of a thermometer||Calculating enthalpy changes|
|Drawing enthalpy level diagrams|
The lecturer knew (via the Labdog dashboard) which students had completed their pre-lab activities. The 30 minute pre-lab consists of watching a video, preparing a results table, completing a mole calculation and a quiz. A small number of students hadn’t completed this work and had to do it on arrival, but the majority started the practical straight away. Staff gave personalised feedback to most of the class, the more prepared students got under way. Those that required additional support had access to it within 5 minutes of the start of the class. Students had access to Labdog via their own tablets or smartphones, or university-owned Kindle Fires.
Instead of starting with a presentation, the lecturer summarised key points after 15 minutes. He emphasised the importance of the pre-lab, proper waste disposal (just when students were reaching this point), technique tips and a reminder to refer to Labdog through the session.Staff addressed common errors in preparing the results table.
Students who completed the pre-lab prior to arrival, and answered all of the Labdog prompts correctly, were able to leave early.
Labdog in action: some key benefits
- Access to the Labdog dashboard shows real time responses from students, so all staff could confer about issues facing the whole class in a much shorter timeframe.
- Students could be paused before progressing to the second stage of the practical. Responding to a Labdog prompt question incorrectly alerted the tutor (via the dashboard). Intervening at this stage prevented the error being repeated and picked up during marking of reports.
- The teaching staff report greater interaction and engagement from students.
- Achievements awarded for being the first to complete a step or achieve a certain goal were built in at the request of students.
- All students received more personalised feedback from the teaching staff.