An alternative online laboratory assessment for hands-on techniques and knowledge

Reynepullen 2
First Year, Second Year
Assessment, Guided activity, Laboratory, Video / Audio
Analytical chemistry, Chemistry, General Chemistry, Medicinal Chemistry, Organic chemistry
The University of Sydney
Mar 2021

Two activities to support learning chemistry laboratory skills and equipment online.

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About this resource


This resource includes two activities and assessments suitable for first- and second-year chemistry students centred on the developing an awareness and understanding of hands-on laboratory skills. Through this activity, students will plan how to accomplish a particular laboratory centred scenario and communicate this through the use of a self-recorded video. This was originally developed as a means to engage remote-learning students during the COVID-19 pandemic.


A week.

Pedagogical backing


In a standard laboratory, the intended learning outcomes include the development of hands-on skills and techniques and the ability to know when to apply these (Seery, 2020). Even outside of the current restrictions imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic we believe these activities would be useful prior to an on-campus laboratory activity focused on experimental design and execution. The activities themselves have been designed with this in mind, employing a guided inquiry approach with scenario setting and minimal prompts to encourage students to move beyond the materials directly in front of them. While phrased as individual exercises in this particular instance, these activities would also be suitable for paired or small group work. The choice for a self-recorded submission or “F2F” live zoom assessment was deliberate and aimed towards broadening student experience in communication and to allow assessors to better question and explore their proposed experimental design.

How is the resource used

This is recommended as an alternative dry lab/online activity to compensate for missing out on the development of laboratory hands-on skills and familiarisation with instrumentation. The context/scenario can be customised to meet your topic of interest with the crux being a focus on articulating the experimental method such that another scientist/peer could follow the proposed experiment.

Student evaluation

These activities have been trialled in Semester 2, 2020 as first- (approximately 120 students) and second-year (approximately 30 students) dry laboratory alternative exercises for students unable to attend on-campus laboratory sessions.

While no formal data collection has taken place, the authors have interacted with students throughout these exercises and viewed many of the submissions. Our initial thoughts were that students found the openness of the tasks to be challenging and therefore, some additional scaffolding or prompting could be warranted in future iterations (or alternatively, offered as paired or small group work to compensate). In this iteration, students were strongly advised to refer to the “business as usual” laboratory manuals (second-year) or the techniques-focused laboratory manuals (first-year) for techniques and instrumentation. The quality of the submissions was mixed, dependent on the level of student preparation, but on the whole met the desired standard. Anecdotal interactions with students indicated that they found the experience to be a positive one and welcome given no F2F option was available to them at the time. One late stage revision was made shifting the assessment from merit-based to pass/fail in recognition of the increased difficulty when compared to the F2F alternative (in future years, we plan to use merit-based grading applied to all rather than a small subset).


Reyne Pullen (
Shane Wilkinson (
Stephen George-Williams (

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