Active Learning in Lab Education with LabBuddy

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A transformative approach to food chemistry lab classes was implemented in the spring semester of 2023, shifting from traditional cookbook-style protocols to active learning methodologies. Students were tasked with designing experiments using the LabBuddy tool, fostering independence, and receiving immediate feedback. This innovative approach led to deeper comprehension of experiment steps and concepts, evidenced by increased engagement and higher-level discussions.

LabBuddy’s success spurred its adoption in European universities, promoting active learning, reducing cognitive load, and enhancing student confidence. The shift towards student-centered learning has proven effective, with students appreciating the opportunity to understand the rationale behind each experiment, resulting in improved preparedness and critical thinking skills. Lecturers observe positive transformations in student engagement and comprehension, affirming the continued implementation of this student-driven approach.

LabBuddy gave me the opportunity to think about why I was doing it at each step and I did not just get a ready made protocol to work with.
Student quote

Changing Lab Education from “cookbook approach” to experiment design

In a successful pilot in the spring semester of 2023, our food chemistry lab class was reshaped and introduced an active learning approach. Instead of providing students with cookbook-type protocols for the experiments, that were often overwhelming to read and hard for the students to follow, students were asked to prepare the experiments themselves. Introducing the tool “LabBuddy” ensured scaffolding and guidance, as well as immediate feedback for the students, empowering them to come fully prepared to the lab class and running the experiments with very little support. The new design was implemented and showed its impact immediately. Active engagement in the experiment design as preparation for the class lead to a deeper understanding of the single steps in the experiment and the overall concepts.

The lab assistants were impressed by the focused and thorough work, allowing for higher level questions and discussions compared to the conventional cookbook approach that often led to low level questions and shallow understanding of the experiments.

LabBuddy, initially a spin-off at the Laboratory of Food Chemistry at Wageningen University, has now become a widely adopted e-learning solution across various European universities. The tool enables active learning and focused work in the laboratory, helps to reduce cognitive load and empowers students to formulate their own experimental designs before they enter the lab. Departing from the cookbook-style, this approach nurtures preparedness, critical thinking, and a deeper understanding of the rationale behind each experiment. Students build confidence through constructive feedback, marking a significant shift towards student-centered, active learning.

The outcomes are clear – students appreciate LabBuddy for providing the space to comprehend the ‹why› behind each step, making theory and instruction more accessible. Lecturers note a positive transformation, witnessing students increased engagement in classroom, asking more relevant and higher-level questions as well as coming prepared with a solid understanding of the experiment. The class will continue to run in this mode.

Discussion Points

We are particularly interested in your experience with lab education. What strategies in teaching have worked or not worked for you regarding practical laboratory classes. We are happy to share our experience with LabBuddy as a tool and a means to transform a lab class to a student-centered active learning design.

In the lab reports, it was noticeable that the students had studied the topic in depth.
Lab Assistant quote

ETH Competence Framework

ETH Competence Framework