Pre-assignments to enhance heterogeneous students’ learning in laboratory

Posted by Natasa Brouwer, Matti Niemelä, Johanna Kärkkäinen, on Dec. 22, 2021, 12:45 p.m.

Johanna Kärkkäinen, Katja Lappalainen, Matti Niemelä

Faculty of Technology, University of Oulu, Finland

Challenge and goal

Students, attending chemistry laboratory courses have different backgrounds. Their major could be mathematics, physics, biochemistry, biology, process engineering as well as chemistry and due to it their knowledge about theory, safety and practical skills may differ a lot. Also, the time that students spend in a laboratory is limited. Therefore, it is important that students are prepared well enough before entering the laboratory. Using digital tools, such as interactive videos and online quizzes, in the pre-assignments may offer a good way to enhance students’ learning prior to the laboratory work. E.g., pre-assignment videos about the laboratory techniques offer students a possibility to familiarize themselves with the techniques already before the laboratory session. Quizzes allow students to test their knowledge before starting the laboratory work. These practices will not only help students (from different backgrounds) to learn the subject but also enhance their time management in the laboratory. 

Topic of the user case

Pre-assignments to enhance heterogeneous student's learning in laboratory and to level out pre-knowledge gaps.

Local context (specific)

Pre-assignment of the laboratory work needs to include theory of the work, chemical safety and calculations. Well-designed pre-assignments also prepare students for the use of new laboratory techniques as well as analytical methods. These practices will not only help students from different backgrounds and with different pre-knowledges to learn the subject but also to make observations, to enhance their time management and safe working in the laboratory along with the reporting and group working skills. For example, interactive videos, online quizzes and written assignments can be utilized in different ways to enhance students’ knowledge prior to laboratory work.

Local CPD goals

Focus on the laboratory teaching to level out the pre-knowledge gaps of heterogenous students and teaching attitudes related to it.

  • Collect examples of current pre-laboratory assignments 
  • Using our own pre-laboratory assignment examples to motivate fellow lecturers to develop their own teaching practice in a specific field.
    • Use of evidence-based approach to justify our approach
    • Literature
  • Share ideas among the fellow lecturers and improve teaching attitudes

Needs defined in STEM-CPD Roadmap

6 cope with heterogeneous pre-knowledge of students
9 give prompt feedback and support students during learning
13 teach about lab safety using digital tools/platform (where appropriate)
24 use blended learning approach
3 inspire a positive attitude in their class.
5 be interested in their students' progress.
8 discuss teaching with their colleagues.
2 attending presentations about teaching approaches.
11 collaborating with a peer-lecturer on a redesign of a course.
12 getting peer-feedback on own teaching practice from a colleague.

CPD activities at the local university

All CPD activities organised in UOulu are closely related to the local teaching practice and workplace learning.
Stage 1:

  • Existing pre-assignment practices are collected
  • Local meetings where pre-assignments and good teaching practices are shared. 

Local topics are e.g.

  • Lab pre-assignments
  • Digital tools for pre-assignments

Stage 2:

  • Collaborative learning in the group of lab teachers developing pre-assignments for their courses.
  • Peer-feedback and support
  • Peer-assistance with unfamiliar pre-assignment types (e.g., H5P)

Stage 3:

  • Sharing experiences of used pre-assignments in local meetings

Teaching and learning materials

  • Materials collected, selected, and developed for CPD activities.
  • Zoom, Teams, Moodle

Sustainable implementation

At the first stage of this user case, collaborative learning and experience sharing among lab teachers developing pre-assignments in their courses will be performed. Pre-assignments will be developed by using a teacher and student-centered approach and online tools. At the next stage, results from the user case will be utilized in the Chemistry degree program and shared at seminars to other chemistry teachers. Finally, to reach other STEM teachers and managers, results are shared at the faculty and/or university level. This approach will support the integration of the changes in the teaching and learning practice on a larger scale.

Expected impact of the CPD User Case

Positive change towards laboratory pre-assignments by encouraging teachers to use various pre-assignment types, such as interactive videos and online quizzes, in addition to written assignments. Students are better prepared for the laboratory session, pre-knowledge gaps are levelled out, better time management from teacher’s and student’s point of view.

Plans for eventual continuation of the CPD within the same topic


Constructive alignment, Competence teaching, Engagement and motivation, facilitation discipline specific learning, Blended learning (type P1-1, P1-2a, P1-3b, P1-4b)

This CPD scenario describes a User case in which lecturers develop their competence in sound course design and teaching in higher education and how to engage and motivate students and how to facilitate discipline specific thinking and how to use blended learning and develop attitudes in supporting student development and enabling students’ well-being in a learning process and inclusivity and knowledge sharing.
The approximate duration of a User case that follows this scenario is several months.
In this CPD scenario the participants professionalize in a close connection to their own teaching practice (at their workplace) and meet in person on location with the training staff and with other participants.

Learning environment
Several months

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