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Designing an experiment

The ‘story’ behind this video is that my tutors were helping me to evaluate the lab work that we do with our first year students. It was created in answer to the students question “Why do we do labs?” Again the viewer is the fly-on-the-wall watching what is going on without the risk of being preached to.

By labs students mean cook-book type ‘experiments’ that are done in a dedicated room and have a formatted write-up. They do not consider the open-ended experimental design activities that we do in tutorials to be labs.

For several years now I have used both types of experimental activities because I think the students can learn different things in each. In all cases the labs are linked to the content that the students are learning at the time so it gives them some hands-on experience of the underlying relationships.

With the cook-book labs they also learn how to: use spreadsheets, analyse data, record relevant observation, measure with precision and accuracy, and other skills that will make them good technicians. Some will also learn error analysis and significance of results. The more open-ended experimental design type of activities: encourages their creativity and imagination, allows them to see themselves as part of a research team and gives them the opportunity to present their results using several of the forms of communication they have been working with.

The lab analysis sheet we are using in the video can be found below. It has not been used beyond this video activity but it was collated from all of the comments that came from my peers about what they expect their students could get out of doing labs, so you might find it interesting reading.

Learning & Teaching Materials

This is the list we were using with the labs in the video. It is effectively a summary of my thoughts and the feedback I got from my peers when I asked them what they thought students could learn from doing labs if the students were open to the experience / posibilities of learning things.

If I was to use this video as a motivation for a WIO workshop the Challenge would be: Determine what prior skills and knowledge it would have been useful for you to have had at the beginning of your university studies. Choose a small subset of these and develop a laboratory activity that will help high school students acquire those skills and that knowledge.

The focus activity would direct the students to use the check-list to work out the purpose of the lab and the type of lab (cook-book/open-ended) they should develop to achieve this purpose. They would need to consider the activities to be included in it, the objectives, how the outcomes are assessed and what are the indicators of success for the students using the developed activity. The small group discussion would also necessitate planning for such things as time and resources.

NB Another use for the check-list could be to aid staff in assessing the learning outcomes of current labs. The second part of the check-list could also be used to help staff think about different aspects of student lab design.

All videos available for use under a Creative Commons Australia CC-BY-NC licence