Online Submission Of Lab Reports

Education in the scientific arena requires a laboratory experience to adequately transfer "procedural knowledge". The history of laboratory education in chemistry reveals four lab types: expository, inquiry, discovery and problem-based. While the debate continues about the relative capabilities of the four lab types to transfer this knowledge to the student, surveys have shown that the most widely administered laboratory experience in this country (91%) is the expository (or verification) format. The most common assessment tools used in the expository style to evaluate the process consist of answering the questions:

  • How well did students understand and follow the procedure?
  • How accurate was their data?
  • Did they get close to a known constant or a number known only by their instructor?
  • Did they identify the unknown correctly?
  • Did they correctly manipulate their data and arrive at the correct mathematical values?

It has been said that a student's first experiences in a chemistry lab is like cooking, one can enjoy the experience, make an appealing product and have a pleasant dining experience if a sound recipe was followed. It is overwhelmingly apparent that academic institutions view the introductory chemistry course as a place in the institution's curriculum to ensure that students passing into advanced courses own the rudimentary manipulation and comprehension skills to complete expository labs. Ineffective or absent evaluation tools designed to rate a student's high school laboratory experience may explain the "one size fits all" approach initially, but advanced courses do encourage and expect more forays and discoveries in the "kitchen".

LabBuilder is an online lab submission program that is designed to respond to the requirements of expository labs but can be used for the other lab types. Even formal lab reports can be submitted where the entire report or sections of the report can be uploaded and viewed by both student and professor. In addition, LabBuilder's guided calculation component can be used for the calculation section in a formal lab report. Online submission is critical in that it provides immediate feedback to the specific questions / calculations posed in the lab report. The paper medium presently employed to communicate laboratory results between the student and teacher lacks the element of timely performance-related feedback - feedback that has been posited as essential for successful instruction. Questioning and responding are the most effective tools for providing feedback to both student and teacher. Today's student must wait a minimum of two weeks (1 week to turn in the lab and 1 week to get them back) to receive feedback that can lead to increased learning. Unfortunately, students rarely look at much more than the grade on these returned lab reports. Another flaw with the present paper medium is that all the calculations are graded at the same time and students have only one chance to critically consider the problem and enter their answer. Grading a calculation at the time it is submitted (even at 3 am) is a facile task for LabBuilder and the student can correct mistakes immediately, or after a period of thought and research. After three incorrect submissions, the correct answer is entered into the lab report and the student is instructed to use this answer in future calculations. Students submitting lab reports online are required to rethink, question, and recalculate (higher order thinking skills) before submitting the second and third answer.

Unique features of LabBuilder include:

  1. Students have online access to the chemistry lab guides (uploaded as a pdf and doc files).
  2. Students come to the campus laboratory and perform the experiment.
  3. Students give their instructor a copy of their data. Lab attendance is set online using this Data Sheet - only students that attend the lab will have an active link to the online submission part of the lab.
  4. Students enter their data online at which time the program takes them to their first calculation.
  5. Students submit their answer and the computer checks it against the correct answer + or - the tolerance set by the lab instructor on the electronic grading key page.
  6. If the student's answer is incorrect, points can be deducted - the amount is determined by the instructor using the electronic grading key.
  7. Students have three chances to enter the correct answer to the calculation before the answer is entered for them - when this occurs, students are instructed to use the entered number in future calculations.
  8. LabBuilder also generates reports of student data and lab results - if the goal of a lab was to find the molar mass of CO2, a class report can be generated where the absolute difference between 44.01 and the student's value is listed. This class report is then sorted by this column placing students close to the correct answer at the top and students far away from the correct answer at the bottom. To the right of the report is a box where a grade can be entered. Maximum points are awarded to students at the top of the list, decreasing numbers of points are awarded as the instructor proceeds down the list. A submit button at the bottom of the page updates each student's electronic lab report with the instructor-assigned points for lab results.
  9. An optional attendance grade can be awarded by the instructor (a grade simply for doing the lab).
  10. An electronic student lab report can be accessed by both student and instructor throughout the entire semester. The instructor's "version" contains links to change the student's grade and to extend the due date for this assignment. Additionally, the instructor can click a link next to each student calculation and "drill-down" to see the student's answers and time-stamps for each answer.
  11. Student observations can be turned in with the Instructor's Data Sheet. These observations are graded by the instructor and the grades are entered online and appear in the student's electronic lab report.
  12. Finally, pre-lab and post lab assignments can be assigned and the grades from these can be pulled into the lab report - students can view one web page to see every graded component for the lab.

The General Chemistry lab manuals presently used at the university level are largely (60%) unpublished, internally produced manuals. It is evident that professors want to be able to customize chemistry labs to fit their students, university, time constraints, and personal options. LabBuilder accommodates professors in this manner by allowing them to customize the actual lab guides and procedures to fit their situation. And, in cases where internally produced manuals exist, the authors may be invited to add their labs to the LabBuilder collection with a per use royalty returned to the author (or the author's university).

Log in as a student to submit a lab online as a student. Sample student data (and calculation answers) are provided OR you can enter sample data and calculate your own answers.

If you would like to view the online lab assignments as an instructor, use the ContactUs link at the top of this page.