The Wageningen introductory physical chemistry courses such as General Chemistry 1, General Chemistry 2 and General Chemistry for the Life Sciences have an important practicum component. The courses, including their practicums, are mandatory for about 900 and growing Wageningen first-year students. In these practicums, students learn the laboratory skills that are critical for many of their later BSc and MSc courses and professional careers.
As laboratory skill testing is difficult to standardize in secondary schools, many first year students are inadequately prepared for our practicums. Naturally, there are also first year students who already have significant above-average lab skills. It is essential to cater to this diversity. Addressing this range of backgrounds is challenging, as class sizes are enormous. All our students need to learn, or review, a diverse set of essential laboratory skills.
We made our lab instruction more flexible by introducing lab instruction videos. In these videos, students can familiarize themselves with basic techniques if they have not yet mastered them, or need to review.
We aimed to make instructional videos coupled to online quizzes that will allow students to independently learn how to perform basic lab skills. More detailed instruction is then left to individual course instructors. The knowledge clips for instruction serve as the first line of educational “ammunition”. We couple the clips to Blackboard based quizzes to directly provide feedback to the student on whether they understood the provided instruction. We aim for flexibility: students can watch instructional videos before or during class, and quiz themselves to see how well they already know of have retained the essential elements of the video. Teaching assistants are now “second line” instructors that both can probe student knowledge more deeply, and can also provide more detailed answers to the more complex questions.
We ran a pilot study for this project in our flagship Advanced Soft Matter course, in which we made instructional videos for small yet advanced laboratory skills including rheology, 3D printing etc. We explored various ways of recording these and various ways to integrate them into Blackboard, in combination with online quizzes. This experience significantly eased the way to integrate this teaching methodology in the Wageningen University freshman course work. Additionally, all the instruction videos on basic lab skills are now available online via Youtube and a part of growing number of instructional videos being developed at Wageningen, available through pclips.wur.nl. We noticed that instructor motivation also increased, as the teaching content became less repetitive, more diverse and more interactive. Another benefit is that modern students have come to expect IT components in their studies, and these videos partly satisfy this expectation.
The video/quiz usage statistics that is generated via these online teaching methods can be mined for optimization of both instructional material and teaching approach. As with all educational content, students expect a professional delivery, so it is key to have instructional videos professionally made, and tailored to the local environment, labs, equipments and machines.