We have entered the final furlong of the academic year, when most education systems around the world will spend a few weeks examining and assessing the academic progress of their students.
Naturally we think of students at this time, as they face a period of hard work, stress and thorough scrutiny of their abilities. This is when many of their transferable skills, such as organization, self motivation, reflection, focus and ability to cope under pressure, get thoroughly tested as well.
We’ve all been in their shoes, and we all feel for them and truly wish them the best possible outcome for their efforts.
But at this moment, we at Labster want to focus our thoughts on the people who have been responsible for getting the students this far: The teachers.
If you’re a teacher, and you’ve been using Labster as a part of your course (or if you’re considering doing so, but not quite sure how to get the most out of it) you’ve come to the right place.
In this blog, we’ll give you concrete methods for measuring the effectiveness of Labster that will help you evaluate what you got out of it, as well as how to make a plan for how to continue to use it, more effectively, next year.
The time for teachers to reflect
As a teacher, not many people will be thinking of you sympathetically, with most of them operating under that completely frustrating and infuriating misconception that you are finished with teaching and thus will be on extended vacation until September.
For those reading who are not teachers, let me fill in the gaps… at this time of year, as students are assessed and tested, lecturers and teachers are too. There is a very intense period of marking (and I do mean intense) when a huge number of exam papers are turned around in a very short period of time. Many papers are often double marked, and internal controls and grading standards are rigorously checked and statistically analyzed. Then, in some countries, follows the process of external review, when visiting experts check that these standards are being adhered to.
It is a great responsibility to be involved in any of these processes. The decisions you make affect the outcome of anyone’s education, and their potential achievement in the future.
Exam grades measure each student’s performance, but they also measure the performance of each course, degree, and institution–and each gets scrutinized in turn:
Why was there a reduction in average course grade this year?
Why have the sophomores performed poorly compared to last year?
Has our institution maintained its standards of quality, and how can we make our degrees more valuable to students?
Do the components of this course meet the tough demands of the current employment market?
Am I teaching the most up-to-date ideas and concepts?
Matters like these are not just a subject for abstract academic discussion over morning coffee, but are actually actively addressed by faculty through assessing metrics and writing reports, to ultimately make changes to the course.
Assessing and preparing for next year
Throughout the exam period, most staff will also be looking ahead to the next academic year and trying to shape up timetables and teaching rotas. New material and changes to assessment have to be developed.
Teaching staff use this time for personal development too, examining their own practices in scholarship and how they teach, and perhaps attending conferences to hear about other examples of good practice.
And let’s not forget, for most teaching staff, this has to fit in with their other focus which is the field of scientific research in which they have become expert and in which they are constantly having to prove themselves in a very, very competitive field.
The people who make this all happen are driven and committed, and we all owe them a debt of gratitude.
So, let us show you our gratitude by helping you with a small component of that onerous task, and talk you through how to review how Labster has worked for you this year, and more importantly how to make it better next year!
Did Labster work for you?
Let’s go through the points one-by-one and consider how you can best organize your reflections.
On paper, there will be two key indicators of how Labster worked for your course (or courses).
1. Did the students achieve the goal learning outcomes?
You will have already aligned the learning outcome of the Labster simulation(s) you use with your course outcomes, but in case you didn’t write it out, you’ll find the learning outcomes for each simulation online. You can find out if your students achieved the objectives using the quiz scores on the Teacher’s Dashboard. For help on how to do this check out the Instructor Guide on our support page.
Looking ahead to the next year, do you need to adjust the grade weighting you attributed to the quiz scores? Or if you didn’t use the quiz scores in this way, consider using them as a good way to get some easy low-grade continuous assessment within your course next year.
2. How well did the students engage with the simulations?
When you look at student scores (as described above), you will see the number of students that played each simulation, the quantitative data, and also a graph called ‘Course Impact’ where Labster shows you the responses from your students when asked about their experience.
You may have collected other qualitative responses from students in class or via your VLE forum. Let’s be absolutely clear here that we are critically aware of how important student engagement is for Labster to provide value to you, and so it’s going to be the sole focus of the next blog! This could be a key area for improvement next year and will take little input from you to reap large rewards in value.
Additionally, you may want to assess how well Labster addressed other specific problems for you:
Labster saved time by taking you out of classroom and allowing you hands-free assessment of course work
Did you use one simulation or more? Make an estimate of the equivalent teaching time you would have to give to cover the same material. One hour in the virtual labs often covers the material of at least one lecture, and up to 3 hours of ‘real’ lab time, or longer if the simulation included super-fast incubations and accelerated results.
How big is your class? Could you have done this with your class in one go, or would you have required duplicate lectures and labs to teach all 300 of them? How much lab support would you have needed from lab assistants or demonstrators?
The automated quiz scores and feedback also saved you a lot of time, so count that in as well.
For next year, consider how you could make your course even more efficient. Maybe add a new simulation into your course to double the time saved, if one is already working well for you.
Labster increased flexibility in your course because students could work on their own time
An obvious statement if your course is online. But for campus-based teaching, using Labster allows students to complete labs at their own convenience. This greater freedom can be a very important factor for particular demographics and widening-participation programs.
Make sure you are counting Labster as ‘directed learning’. I would suggest that although a simulation takes approximately an hour to play, it can count for two or three times that as learning time, if students repeat play, read all the supporting text, and take time to align/relate the virtual lab to other course work and texts.
As before, if this worked well for you already, you now can consider including more simulations. To really lead the field here, Labster offers an incredible resource to allow personalized learning for each student. Customizable education is something we are all hearing more and more about, and I’m looking forward to sharing my own ideas on the topic in another blog in this teacher-focused series.
Labster changed how you teach a component of your course
Using lab simulations could provide the fundamental shift that allows you to genuinely feel that you shaped the course to allow higher-order learning for students.
Did you embed Labster in a flipped-classroom model? If you used Labster as an essential pre-lab tool, or followed Labster with a more open, discussion based tutorial or lecture experience, then you’ve perhaps done this unwittingly!
Maybe using Labster this year has allowed you to see better potential for blended learning and you can now plan to change a lecture next year to create a large-group interactive session, or re-shape a lab.
Alternatively you may now see a way to create a new exercise for students based on their work in Labster – more about this idea will come in another blog!
Labster increased student capacity in your course
For online courses, using a simulation of laboratory activities will give students in your course an experience that other online courses can’t provide. Laboratory methods and techniques can therefore justifiably be included as learning outcomes.
For campus-based courses, using simulations means that a class that was once restricted to 100 because of access to lab space can now open its doors to more students.
Yes, you will still include real labs, but maybe an existing block of labs can be changed to be half virtual, half real. And as a result, you’ll be able to up the game in the real labs!
Labster allowed your course to meet strategic aims of your institution
Take a look at your institution’s goals–modern teaching methods, digital teaching, and recognition of individual student learning styles are all likely to be there. These are all areas that Labster has most likely been able to help you improve on as well.
This is just a set of ideas, but we hope that reading through this alone has encouraged you to reflect on how Labster worked for you this year, and to make a plan for how to continue to use it, more effectively, next year.
Collecting the metrics from your Teacher’s Dashboard combined with a few notes to cover any of the additional points as suggested may be enough for you, or you may find that you want to turn this reflection into an extended review of your pedagogical practice. Either way, we hope you get the most out of your Labster experience, and we’re always here to help you get more out of it if needed.
If you’d like to learn more about Labster’s effect on learning outcomes, student engagement and more, take a look at our research publications and our blog.
Faculty wishing to speak to Helen about how to get the best from their Labster experience, please reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org.