J. Dunne

Dublin Institute of Technology (IRELAND)
Traditional or expository laboratory teaching methods, where students follow a given procedure to obtain a pre-determined outcome will allow students to manipulate equipment, learn standard techniques, collect and interpret data, and communicate the finding in a written report (Bennett & O’Neale, 1999). However recently there has been debate on the merits of these methods. The level of critical thinking required to perform the experiment, and the consequent deep learning achieved is low, and there is no opportunity for creativity or contextualisation (McDonnell, O’Connor & Seery, 2007). Furthermore, the environment required for co-operative learning, which requires students learning together with peer tutoring, towards a common goal, is not facilitated by traditional laboratories (Eilks and co-workers, 2009). A more ideal approach integrates application of knowledge to solve problems, group work, and an opportunity to design experiments, including consideration of the safety aspects (Bennett, Seery & Sovegjarto-Wigbers, 2009). The group work element is particularly important not only in relation to the socio-constructivist perspective on learning, but also because group work probably comes closer to any other single activity in preparing students for employment, and has been highlighted by the IBEC Results of Employer Survey, 2003 as an essential transferable skill.

This abstract describes a project involving the re-structuring of Food Chemistry laboratory practicals associated with two related modules, with the aim of adding to the learning outcomes of traditional laboratory teaching methods through redesigning learning activities, implementing appropriate and timely feedback processes, and integrating transferable skills including group work and presentation skills. In the first module students worked in groups to ‘run’ the practical for the rest of the class. The method was provided to the group, who then researched the necessary theory to provide the pre-practical presentation. The group was responsible for liaising with the technician to requisition the necessary chemicals and equipment for the experiment. They were also accountable for the safety aspects. On the day, they were in charge of organizing the lab, and explaining the theory, the method, and afterwards, the calculations. The process was repeated in the second module, however the group were also required to devise their own experiment, and were guided through suitable literature to aid this process. In both modules, anonymous peer marking of group members was a component of the assessment.

Group laboratory report submissions were a feature of these modules. Weekly face to face feedback sessions allowed representatives from each group to peer review and discuss the written reports of all groups, and to get expert feedback from the teacher. A generic scripted summary of this feedback was recorded by the teacher using Audacity software, and available to listen directly or download from the Institute’s VLP Webcourses. This was used in preparation of a final individual lab report.

Pedagogical evaluation took the form of an anonymous multiple choice questionnaire (n=32) and an independent academic facilitated discussion forum (n=8). Results which will be presented suggest a very positive reaction to the restructured modules.