Improve the assessment of competences of non-chemistry BSc students in Bioorganic Chemistry Practical Classes

Posted by Vera Silva, on Oct. 16, 2023, 6:53 p.m.

Vera  L. M. Silva

Chemistry Department, University of Aveiro, Portugal

Challenge and goal

Laboratory/practical classes play a major role in sciences and engineering courses. In this environment students learn to be scientists and also develop professional skills and attitudes. In Bioorganic Laboratory classes, we realized that students, in general, are not much motivated to learn since they are non-chemistry BSc students, and they do not understand the need of this subject in their curriculum. They also do not clearly known what are the competences/skills they must develop along the course, what they should learn. Therefore, students often adopt a passive attitude in the class, their engagement is low and this difficults learning. 

Due to the high number of students, several lecturers are involved in practical classes. Some of them are teachers, but the majority are researchers and it is really important that all are well-aligned with the course learning outcomes and students assessment. Lecturers find it difficult to keep students motivated for the practical classes.They also find it difficult to do a fair assessment/ evaluation of students because most of the work is done in group (of two or three students) and part of the work is done at home.  Often, some lecturers fail to give meaningful and timely feedback to help students improve learning.

The challenge of this CPD User Case is to improve the assessment of the competences that BSc students of Biorganic Chemistry must develop along the course.

To achieve this goal constructive alignment will be implemented between lecturers, in order to define the students' learning outcomes, redesign the course (based on a student-centered model), to facilitate and improve the assessment of competences developed by students.


Topic of the user case

Constructivie alignment, student-centred model, scientific practical and soft skills development and assessment.


Local context (specific)

At the University of Aveiro, the number of students enrolling in Bioorganic Laboratory classes is usually around 300, from different courses (Biology, Biology and Geology, Biotechnology, Environmental Engineering) divided by 20 practical classes.

Several lecturers teach these laboratory classes and most of them are researchers, not professors. During their laboratory course the students performe five experiments in groups of two or maximum three students. Most common approach used to assess students knowledge and competences developed relies on pre-questionaires (done at home) and questionaires done in group in the class (usually groups of two students) and a written test (individual) at the end of the course. In the written test, frequently theroretical knowledge is evaluated rather than other concepts, competences, skills and appropriate attitudes important in a practical course.

In this context, students assessment is a difficult task for lecturers. It is difficult to do a fair assessment of what each member of the group really knows, each one practical skills, difficulties or needs, and take actions to increase  each student motivation and  progress along the course. As the biorganic chemistry course has a theoretical and practical component, the practical component should be more focused on practical issues.

Also the number of teachers engaged in this course is high, and each one has is own teaching methods, and therefore some heterogeneity in practices is observed, regarding the approaches they use to reach the students and on what they consider that it is important to teach in a practical class.

.The learning objectives for practical classes should be much broader and it is important to clearly define the learning outcomes at the begining of the course as well as the students' assessement.

Local CPD goals.

Use ADDIE approach to Re-design the course and define students learning outcomes.

Improve the assessment of competences that students must develop in biorganic chemistry practical classes.

Reduce subjectivity in the students assessment..  

Needs defined in STEM-CPD Roadmap

2 define intended learning outcomes in every course they teach
6 cope with heterogeneous pre-knowledge of students
4 engage students and arouse interest for the discipline in the class
12 design laboratory courses
8 develop critical thinking by students
15 attend training for lecturers at the university.
3 inspire a positive attitude in their class.
5 be interested in their students' progress.
6 use students evaluations and the feedback of students to improve courses.
12 share experience and knowledge gained through continuous professional development (CPD) with lecturers from other institutions.
4 attending hands-on workshops on specific continuous professional development (CPD) topics.
13 collaborating on a teaching innovation project.
12 getting peer-feedback on own teaching practice from a colleague.
19 participating in a teaching and learning network or a special interest group on teaching and learning in HE.

CPD activities at the local university

Use ADDIE approach to:

Organize a meeting with colleagues enrolled in this course, in the previous years, to  Analyse and discuss the problems in students' learning, the needs of the lecturers, and the curriculum of the course in order to clearly defined the learning outcomes, learning activities, the needs in competences and attitudes, and assessment.

Design the course materials matching the course content to outcomes and not the other way around.

Develop it.

Implement: Redesign the Practical Works Guide to match the constructivist instructional model. Organize a workshop/meeting with all the lecturers that will be enrolled in the course. Given them a matrix with the learning outcomes so that all lecturers can check which ones were introduced, practised, assessed during the practice. This matrix can be shared on PADLET for example. Define Assessment model and materials.  Each lecturer should Implement a tutorial session to support students in their learning process (student-centred model) and collect feedback information from them, so that is possible to act and improve practice on proper time. The tutorial sessions can be presencial but if there are some shedule constrains for the students or teachers they may change to online mode using Microsoft TEAMS platform.

Evaluate: Collect feedback from students and from lecturers to evaluate the course. Based on the evaluation a new ADDIE cycle can take place to further improve the course.

Teaching and learning materials

Materials collected, selected, and developed for CPD activities (e.g. institutionsl reports, articles, books, videos)

Collaborative platforms (Zoom, Teams, Moodle, Miro, Padlet)

Sustainable implementation

Basically, sustainable implementation will be done follow ADDIE instructional design approach.

A  meeting with all teachers will be organized to discuss how the course will run, what are the expectations and the steps to be taken. 

A second meeting will be organized in the middle of the semester to discuss relevant aspects of the classes and students' assessment.

Share new implemented actions with other collegues.


Expected impact of the CPD User Case

Improve students understanding of the purpose of the experimental classes, as well as students engagement and learning.

Reduce the subjectivity in the students assessments.

Improve cooperation between lecturers.

Create communities of good practices

Plans for eventual continuation of the CPD within the same topic

Share knowledge, experience and good practices with peers in the chemistry department or in other departments or institutions;

Organize CPD activities for lecturers at home university;

Continuosly develop own skills and knowledge on academis didatics, pedagogical knowledge and pedagogical content knowledge;

Apply to education innovation projects

Constructive alignment, Engagement and motivation, facilitation discipline specific learning, Deep learning (type P1-1, P1-3b, P1-3c)

This CPD scenario describes a User case in which lecturers develop their competence in sound course design and how to engage and motivate students and how to facilitate discipline specific thinking and how to facilitate student’s deep learning and development of higher cognitive skills and develop attitudes in how to stay motivated and self-regulate their continuous professional development and supporting student development and enabling students’ well-being in a learning process and inclusivity and practicing teaching and learning in an evidence informed way and knowledge sharing.
The approximate duration of a User case that follows this scenario is several hours.
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 hours

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See also