Online Pre-laboratory Exercises Enhance Student Preparedness for First Year Biology Practical Classes

Susan M Jones, Ashley Edwards


Effective preparation prior to a practical class is essential if meaningful learning is to occur. If effective preparation does not occur, then students are at risk of “information overload” as they attempt to simultaneously come to terms with novel technical or manipulative tasks as well as learning new concepts. We designed on-line multi-media pre-laboratory exercises (Pre-labs) to support dissection-based practicals in a first year biology unit. The aim of this study was to gauge the effectiveness of the Pre-labs in improving students’ perceptions of their preparedness for practical classes. We surveyed the students before and after introduction of the Pre-labs, and monitored use of the Pre-labs on the class on-line learning site. The surveys showed that 68% of students reported they like to “see or be shown what to do”. In the initial survey, only 15% of students reported doing a substantial amount of preparation for practical classes. However, the majority of students used the “visual” Pre-labs regularly, and reported finding them ‘very useful’ in preparing them for the practical class, and 47 % (compared with an initial 22.4%) reported being well-prepared for class. Better preparation should lead to enhanced learning outcomes for students as well as better meeting ethical guidelines for instructors designing practicals based on animal specimens.

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