How you can use Labster to engage your students

Staying on top of your student’s presence in lectures, labs, tutorials, homework, and other activities, is a contentious issue.

Some will argue that since students in higher education are there voluntarily and adults; we as educators should step away from the hand-holding/spoon-feeding/nanny role.
It’s an idea with many attractions: your class would soon dwindle to a manageable handful of only the most motivated, able and driven students as dropouts and failures increase, and you wouldn’t have to wonder how your career in some pretty niche research resulted in counting heads in a classroom.
So why do we bother with the hand-holding?
I’m not going to take the cynic’s view that we bother because every school and university has a business model that has a requisite number of lecture halls needing filled with students to turn a profit, and dropouts and failures resulting from educators stepping back would result in lost revenue.
If, like me, you have already used Labster in your teaching, I’ll wager that you bother for far greater reasons. We bother because we know that students can ‘learn to learn’, and that a little hand-holding in early adult years can set them on a life-changing path.
We know the pleasure that learning can bring, and want to pass it on. We know the greatest progression usually occurs in students who don’t have the inherent advantages of confidence or exceptional intellectual ability.
The biggest personal satisfaction for a passionate educator comes from those penny-drop moments when an ingot of knowledge or sudden understanding has lit up a student’s face with satisfaction, and when those students take a moment of their time to thank us for helping them to that point.
We also  know that attendance, application and presence are key for students to achieve any of this.
It’s not enough to just tell students to be present and engaged in class and expect them to comply with our suggestions. Student engagement has to be fostered in a productive and meaningful way.
Actively working to engage students in material shouldn’t be viewed as hand-holding, but rather as the key to a structured, functional curriculum.

Increase student engagement: Advice from schools

We’ve gathered information and advice from some of the courses around the world with the highest level of student engagement using Labster.
Putting some of this advice into practice can allow your students to become better, more informed scientists, allow excellent teacher-directed (but independent) learning, and frankly will make sure that your institute is getting the best return for their financial investment in Labster.
It’s not rocket science, but is a sure-fire recipe for success!

1. Make the scores count

This is the easiest and most effective way to ensure students complete the task you set.
Each simulation has a quiz running through it (multiple choice format), and students are automatically scored by Labster as they complete the quizzes. The quiz scores can easily be exported from your Teacher Dashboard.
Alternatively, if you have not already done so, ask to have Labster embedded in your VLE (we can set that up for you) so that scores are transferred directly to the VLE Gradebook. You can then set the weighting of these scores. Try to keep them low so that the scores don’t become punitive.
Labster is a safe learning experience, and the quizzes are primarily there to facilitate feedback to both the student and educator indicating progress. Labster is excellent at delivering learning outcomes, so you may find that students all perform very well in the quizzes, which is another reason to keep the weighting low.
All courses must have a component of continuous (or in-course) assessment, and Labster can provide that for you easily and efficiently.
If you are using several simulations in your course and don’t want to award a grade for each one, take the average score instead. Again this will will ensure students play all the simulations, as a score of 0 for any that they skip will bring that average way down.

2. Give recognition for completion of simulations

More commonly used in online courses, you can reward students with badges or bonus points for using the simulations.

3. Make the simulations part of your course scaffolding

Simulations could either be made a mandatory pre-lab exercise, or an essential element to foster participation in active lectures and small group tutorials.
The latter doesn’t allow any hiding places, but isn’t always logistically feasible with large classes.
Using simulations in practice like this is a great way to introduce flipped-classroom teaching, and maybe this is something you are keen to try!
Whichever method you choose, it’s a good idea to be very clear that a simulation is delivering some core understanding/concepts that you will be applying and extending on after the simulations have been played.

4. Use knowledge/concepts from the simulation in other graded assignment material, and communicate this clearly to students

Coming up with effective multiple choice exam questions is laborious, difficult, and time consuming. The quiz questions from each simulation are easily available, and can be pulled out to add to an end-of-semester larger exam paper. Better still, use the existing questions to shape some new ones of your own. Aim to devise questions that demonstrate transfer of knowledge.
The Theory Pages within the simulation, which the students can read while playing, are another great supply of material for further MCQs.
Of course there are many ways other than MCQs in which to assess learning from the simulations, and some of these ideas will be discussed in a future blog.

5. Build a Skills and Competencies portfolio

Increasingly, both students and employers are looking to have documented evidence of key competencies that the student possesses.
Some professional bodies accept that skill and technique-based competencies can be taught and learned virtually, and general appreciation of the value of virtual experiences is increasing.
Labster simulations can be an important part of the portfolio of key laboratory techniques with which a student has had experience.

Remember to clearly communicate expectations with your students

Once you have embedded the simulations in your course by any of these methods, it is key that you communicate your expectations regarding simulations to your students. This ensures that everyone is on the same page from the start about your expectations of students in terms of participation in the simulations as a core part of their course infrastructure.
Clear communication should be both written and oral, so that students hear the message more than once:

  1. List the simulations in your course description/course information papers, aligning them with the learning outcomes they will deliver. These could be course level outcomes, as well as the learning outcomes of each individual simulation.
  2. Introduce the simulations during a classroom lecture, preferably at the start of the course in an Introductory session. You can embed a YouTube clip of a simulation into your slides to let the students see how they look.
  3. Have clear written instructions for when the simulations have to be played (set deadlines) and how the students can access them.
  4. Use your VLE platform to make a course announcement to remind students when their engagement is expected.
  5. Don’t only communicate your expectations and timelines: Share your enthusiasm for the opportunity that Labster is bringing to your course! Inform them of the benefits that have been published (increased student learning outcomes, increased self efficacy, intrinsic motivation in students) and that your institution values the advances in innovative pedagogies that are changing the face of education. Perhaps most importantly, tell them about how fun Labster is with its gamified elements, such as storylines, missions to solve, 3D animations and free experimentation.
  6. Advocate the flexibility this brings students: they can choose the time and place to play a simulation, and they have control over their learning by setting the pace and re-playing as often as they feel the need for.

Working Labster into your course this way is essential to ensure that both you and your students are getting the full benefit of learning with Labster.
Students value their teachers’ commitment and will (mostly!) follow where you lead.
Engage them with these easy-to-implement steps and look forward to seeing that reflected in your end-of-course review next year!
Faculty wishing to speak to Helen about how to get the best from their Labster experience, please reach out 

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