McGill University is enthusiastically planning to welcome students back to campus in Fall 2021. The plans include considering where and when we will meet with our students. Depending on the subject you teach and your class size, you might encounter students in person from a couple of times a week to only a few times during the semester. Thus, planning requires flexibility, and if there’s one thing many instructors learned from teaching throughout the pandemic, it’s how to be flexible—flexible in how we plan and how we implement learning activities for our students.
While being flexible comes with challenges, it can also result in welcome benefits. For me—and for my students—one such benefit was the discovery of a tool called Labflow for use in the laboratory component of General and Organic Chemistry courses. It offers a large database of experiments to choose from. Once the instructor selects an experiment, students prepare for it by watching a related video and completing an online pre-lab quiz. On a personal note: the high-quality videos were a deciding factor in my choosing to use Labflow.
In working with Labflow, students are prompted when they incorrectly enter data or when calculations are not precise. The immediate feedback students receive allows them to move forward in their work more confidently without perpetuating errors.
My experience with Chemistry students
I used Labflow with my students in my General Chemistry 1 course during the remote Fall 2020 semester. Some of these students had also registered to take a Tier 1 lab course (i.e., an in-person lab experience) in the Winter 2021 semester. It was therefore important that my course prepare them for the in-person lab experience. The remote learning environment allowed all students to be exposed to the lab material during the same week, which made it easier to discuss in lecture-specific lab related examples. The lab modules were perfectly synched with the lecture material.
In my Organic Chemistry course in Winter 2021, which was an on-campus/in-lab course, all students were in a physical McGill lab for the first time in their life. Some students had had the Labflow experience and some hadn’t. Many students were understandably nervous, but those who had had the Labflow experience displayed more confidence at manipulating materials in the lab. They knew how to manipulate measurements obtained in the lab and did not make the same mistakes as students who had not had the Labflow experience. Students who had not used Labflow asked basic questions, such as “Where do I get this number from? How do I get the final volume reading?” Students who had used Labflow knew where to get the answers to these questions. These students were grateful for their Labflow experience; they felt it had adequately prepared them for the in-person laboratory experience.
Flexibility and benefits
Labflow allows for flexibility in a variety of ways. It can:
- be used in an entirely online learning environment, a blended learning environment, or an in-person environment.
- provide students with provisional data if your class is working online, or students can gather their own data through performing the experiment in person.
- be used as an in-class teaching tool in blended environments (e.g., for certain topics, dry labs are available that can be used in lectures or as practice problems in tutorials).
- reduce the need for make-up labs when students have had to miss labs because they can use Labflow’s provisional data.
In addition, Labflow is especially well designed to support classes with large enrolment where many Teaching Assistants (TAs) are assigned to grade lab reports. The built-in grading and feedback features reduce the number of hours TAs spend grading and help ensure grading consistency among TAs.
For many instructors, academic integrity has become a greater concern in the online teaching environment. Labflow has features to address the challenge. For example:
- In keeping with McGill’s suggestion that students acknowledge having read an honour code, Labflow allows for including an academic integrity statement in each lab report and interspersed within each pre-lab quiz.
- In keeping with another McGill suggestion, offering students low-stakes practice opportunities, Labflow allows students multiple attempts on lab reports so students can improve their score based on real-time feedback.
- Data in the lab reports and the pre-lab questions are randomized, making it difficult for students to cheat.
- Labflow conducts regular checks on numerous websites, including Chegg, for Labflow content and questions posted by students. The company works actively to have their content removed from such sites.
Once you sign up to use the platform, Labflow will assign you a Faculty Success Manager, but I like to think of them as a “support scientist,” who is responsible for supporting you while you teach your course. The Faculty Success Manager not only works closely with you to set up your course but is also available throughout the semester to answer your questions or make any adjustments to your courses that you request. Having such personalized support is appreciated given the many responsibilities instructors juggle in a given semester. In addition, Labflow offers weekly training webinars for both faculty and TAs.
For me, Labflow has been a boon for teaching Chemistry during the pandemic. It has afforded the flexibility I’ve needed in my teaching so that I could best support student learning in an evolving situation.
McGill instructors: Interested in using Labflow? It’s integrated in myCourses. Go to this page to request access to Labflow.