Online Submission Of Lab Reports

Education in the scientific arena requires a laboratory experience to adequately transfer procedural knowledge, techniques, and opportunities for critical thinking to the learner. The history of laboratory education in chemistry reveals four lab types: expository, inquiry (open inquiry), discovery (guided inquiry) and problem-based1. While the debate continues about the relative capabilities of the four lab types to ultimately create students with heightened critical thinking skills, surveys have shown that the most widely administered laboratory experience in this country is the expository (or verification) format. The most common assessment tools used in the expository style answer the questions:

  • How well did students understand and follow the procedure?
  • Did they correctly manipulate their data and arrive at the correct mathematical values?
  • How accurate was their data?
  • Did they identify an unknown correctly?

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 posess the manipulation and comprehension skills to complete labs at the expository level. While ineffective evaluation tools designed to rate a student's high school laboratory experience may explain the "one size fits all" approach initially, advanced lab courses do encourage, and expect, more forays and discoveries in the "kitchen".

BuildALab (BAL) 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 is essential for successful instruction. Questioning and responding are the most effective tools for providing feedback to both student and teacher. Today's student typically wait a minimum of two weeks (1 week to turn in the lab and 1 week to get them back) to receive the feedback that essential for learning. Unfortunately, students rarely look at much more than the grade on these returned lab reports because they have new reports and assignments to attend to. 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 an easy task for a computer program like BAL. Additionally, 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 any future calculations. Students submitting lab reports online are required to rethink, question, and recalculate (i.e. use their higher order thinking skills) before submitting the second and third answer.

Unique features of BAL include:

  1. Students have online access to the chemistry lab (uploaded as a pdf and doc/docx files).

  2. Students come to the campus laboratory and perform the experiment.

  3. Students give the 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. Students can submit an essay answer, submit a drawing as an answer, or upload an image as an answer.

  9. BuildALab also generates Web Reports - 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 automatically graded using the rubric supplied by the Lab Instructor. Web Reports can be simple or complex - anything you can do with the student's data in a spreadsheet can be done in a Chem21 Web Report.

  10. An optional attendance grade can be awarded by the instructor (this is a grade simply for doing the lab).

  11. The 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.

  12. Student lab observations can be entered online during lab, or written on paper and turned in after lab where it is graded later by the instructor. This grade can be entered online and appear in the student's online lab report.

  13. 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 a single web page to see every graded component for a 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. BuildALab accommodates professors in this manner by working with them to convert their labs to Chem21Labs. Your work is published online and a per-use royalty is returned to you or your department.

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

1 Domin D.S., (2007), Students’ perceptions of when conceptual development occurs during laboratory instruction, The Royal Society of Chemistry, 8 (2), 140 - 152.