Professional practice points in chemistry laboratories
Keywords: large class, experiments, REVIEW.
Chemistry 1 is a large first year, first session subject taught by Dr Scott Chadwick, that can have up to 1200 students enrolled in a single cohort. A major part of assessment is a series of five laboratory exercises which consist of pre-work, experimental work, post-work and a timed 20 minute task on the laboratory subject matter. Included in the experimental work is the requirement for students to demonstrate that they have the appropriate organisational, communication and interpersonal skills required to work both independently and in a team environment. These skills are not specific to chemistry, but are considered essential to being a scientist, and should therefore be cultivated from the very beginning of a degree.
The experimental work includes professional practice points awarded for students who demonstrate the generic capabilities of a scientist during the laboratory exercises. The students are briefed on the requirements of the laboratory exercises in the first week of the session and students are expected to review their professional practice every time they are in the lab. The lab classes are conducted with cohorts of 32 students with two demonstrators in each lab. The lab demonstrators get to know their 16 students well over the session, developing an understanding of their strengths and weaknesses early on in the session.
All of the assessments for the professional practice points are done using the REVIEW tool. Students complete a self-assessment in which they reflect on how they performed during the laboratory exercise. The self-assessment does not count towards their final assessment grade but provides a point of comparison with the laboratory demonstrator’s feedback. Demonstrators observe the students working within their laboratory group and use a marking rubric in REVIEW to record the students’ performance at different competency levels. Only after the lab demonstrator has submitted his or her grading can he or she see what the students have submitted.
At the end of the laboratory exercise students receive feedback from the lab demonstrators on why they were graded at that particular level and how they could improve in subsequent weeks. Students receive a rating of either Not competent; Developing; Competent; or Exemplary against each criterion. The combination of ratings on particular criteria are then converted into a specific mark for assessment.
Benefits for staff and students
The major benefit of assessing with REVIEW is the time it saves when it comes to marking and collating. The professional practice points were initially trialled using a paper-based marking sheet and it quickly became unmanageable, putting unnecessary stress and strain on staff. Uploading the criteria into REVIEW means that the students and the staff can see everything, making administering the marking a lot easier. The main challenge comes from students who are not used to this kind of assessment and would prefer a mark out of 10 rather than getting feedback on their performance. These students generally see the point at the end, and the next phase will make more explicit use of the Careers Services to bring the employability skills to the forefront. Students come to realise that this is not just something they need to do in chemistry to get a mark, but is putting them on their career path to be a scientist.
Photo by: Andrew Worssam