What is LabSkills?: A-Level Chemistry LabSkills
The LabSkills products are interactive, on-line laboratory manuals which have been designed by Bristol ChemLabS staff in association with Learning Science Ltd to improve the practical skills for chemistry courses in schools and colleges, and more recently for biology courses. A-Level Chemistry LabSkills supports all current A-Level specifications and is also appropriate for IB and Scottish Highers. These resources have evolved from the Bristol ChemLabS Dynamic Laboratory Manual (DLM), which forms the centrepiece of the state-of-the-art Undergraduate Teaching Laboratories in the School of Chemistry at the University of Bristol. We believe that LabSkills will transform teaching and student learning in school laboratory environments in the same way that the ChemLabS DLM has done for undergraduates at Bristol. Many of the key features of LabSkills are outlined below. A-Level Chemistry LabSkills is designed to run on any school VLE and personalised teacher and student versions are also available.
The problem with the traditional laboratory experience
Students typically arrive at a laboratory class to carry out an experiment without a very clear idea of the practical techniques they will be using, the skills they will need, or the chemistry which underlies the practical. It is usually only after the laboratory, perhaps during a write up, that students will generally start to work out what it was they had been doing all day. This is obviously an unsatisfactory experience and students will clearly get much more from their laboratory work if they know what they are doing beforehand. Pre-laboratory preparation is the key to achieving this and the LabSkills philosophy has therefore been to shift the balance of work done outside the laboratory to before rather than after the practical class so that students are much better informed, better prepared and more confident.
As part of their pre-laboratory work, students are required to work through some background information about the experiment including sets of multiple choice and multiple completion tests which also provide instant feedback on any wrong answers. Additional information they need for a particular experiment is also contained within A-Level Chemistry LabSkills in a variety of rich formats which include:
Flash based simulations/virtual instruments
An unfamiliar piece of equipment is represented in a diagrammatic form which has a number of fully interactive features. The correct use of the equipment can then be learned by following a set of instructions and although it is likely that many students will merely play around with it initially, even this will educate them about the function of the apparatus. Mistakes, which might be quite serious or costly with the real equipment, can be made with no ill-effects; students just start again and have another go.
Some techniques are best illustrated by video and students find this a very useful way to get a clear idea of what they will need to do in the laboratory. Students therefore see and learn what a particular piece of equipment is supposed to do, have more confidence when it comes to using the real thing, and a much better idea of the chemistry that is being explored in the experiment.
In addition to the simulations and video, the LabSkills software resource contains experimental safety information, tutorials on the use of significant figures and analytical and spectroscopic techniques, equipment and chemical glossaries, short revision tests and much more.
Discover LabSkills was part of the Royal Society of Chemistry/Pfizer initiative called Discover Chemistry. The two-year Discover LabSkills initiative made the A-Level Chemistry LabSkills freely available to all UK PGCE students and their tutors for use during their year of study as well as making the student version available free of charge to all UK secondary schools. For information about Discover LabSkills click here
Runners up in the first ever Guardian University Awards in the Teaching Excellence category.
Winner of the Times Higher Education Award for Outstanding ICT Initiative of the Year.
Collaboration with Cengage Learning Inc
In collaboration with Cengage Learning Inc., General Chemistry LabSkills and Organic Chemistry LabSkills have been produced to support practical chemistry skills development in an introductory setting in universities with a focus on Freshman Chemistry classes at North American universities. These new LabSkills products are available on a subscription basis, further details for which are available here for General Chemistry and here for Organic Chemistry.
Dynamic Laboratory Techniques Manuals
A resource, funded by the UK’s Higher Education Academy (HEA), to support transition from Post 16 to first year undergraduate practical courses in the Biological Sciences based on the same pedagogy has been launched (January 2013). The Dynamic Laboratory Techniques Manual (DLTM) has been given freely to all UK Universities who wished to have it. A Physic DLTM will be available later in 2013.
DLTMs are a resource, funded by the UK’s Higher Education Academy (HEA), to support transition from Post 16 to first year undergraduate practical courses in Biology and Physics concentrating on key practical techniques. For more details, click here.
A-Level Biology LabSkills
A-Level Biology LabSkills was published in late 2013 and has been produced to support practical work in Post 16 Biology courses. General laboratory techniques, microscopy and field work are augmented with specific support for electrophoresis, colorimetry, potometry and PCR among others. The mathematical side of analysing and representing data are also supported along with glossaries for equipment, common biological reagents, technical terms and hazards. The resources also contain introductory and help texts, simulations, videos, health and safety material and formative questions. The resource has been mapped to the main Post 16 Biology courses. For more information and a free trail please click here.
Figure 1: Biology LabSkills Beta Test Version 2013
To register interest: firstname.lastname@example.org
The Bristol ChemLabS undergraduate DLM (including a demonstration version)
For articles about the A-Level Chemistry DLM, see:
- Chemistry in Action, Spring 2010, 90. 'How to Get the Most Out of Chemistry Practical Work' by T G Harrison and W J Heslop.
- Acta Didactica Napocensia (journal of the Didactics of Exact Sciences Chair of the Babes-Bolyai University) Volume 2, Number 1, 2009, Transferring Best Practice From Undergraduate Practical Teaching To Secondary Schools: The Dynamic Laboratory Manual by T G Harrison, D E Shallcross, W J Heslop, J R Eastman & A J Baldwin.
- Chemistry in Action (magazine for Irish teachers) #86 Winter 2008 - 'A Chemistry Dynamic Laboratory Manual for Schools'