In a recent survey by The College Tribune, 68% of science students said they only ‘sometimes’ believed that their demonstrators had adequate teaching skills for the lab sessions they were leading. The survey which was completed online last week by 109 students offered insight to how students perceive labs in UCD’s science courses, which are often mandatory components which either must be passed or are heavily weighted in continuous assessment. Only 22% of students believed that their demonstrators had adequate teaching skills for their lab sessions, while 8% believed that they did not. The view that their demonstrators did not have adequate teaching skills was most commonly expressed by students in third or fourth year.
This uncertainty on the part of students regarding the teaching ability of their demonstrators comes alongside the fact that 62% of respondents strongly believe that the teaching ability of their demonstrators has a substantial effect on the quality of a module.
Students from these years also expressed particular concern at how they were expected to complete a final year research project when they were poorly equipped with lab skills from previous years.
Some students reported that demonstrators were unable to answer questions about what the were expected to be doing or learning in labs, and others said that they were actively discouraged from asking questions. This seems to be entirely dependent on individual demonstrators, however, as 40% of students reported they were frequently encouraged to asked questions by the demonstrators, while only 6% reported they were never encouraged to do so.
One of the most frequent requests from students who completed the survey was greater consistency and clarity in the grading of exams. 44% strongly agreed with the belief that their grades from labs were affected directly by the opinions of an individual demonstrator. This is coupled with the fact that a total of 67% felt that their demonstrators’ opinions affected their grades at all. Only 14% believed that it had a small or no effect on their grades.
Students felt that the marking scheme was not clear at not consistent even within schools. One student reported that they lost marks in a lab report for using bullet points, which were viewed as acceptable by three other demonstrators within the same school. Others reported that they felt they were spending more time trying to follow a marking scheme for lab reports than actually understanding the practical elements of the labs being taught. The perception that
Furthermore, many students expressed frustration over the lack of feedback from individual demonstrators, especially given how much control they have over their grades.
There were also widespread feelings that the demonstrators were not engaging with students enough, simply staying up at the top of labs and feeling inaccessible. Students claimed they were unsure if demonstrators were there to teach or just to supervise and correct mistakes. Many felt they could be more proactive in their teaching, especially in the first and second-year modules were the most vital lab skills were obtained.
Additionally, only 54% of students believed that they were sometimes learning what the lecturer wants them to learn from a given lab, with 14% believing that they weren’t. A number of students also reported that the labs and lecturers were not in sync, resulting in them attempting to do practical experiments for which they had not learnt the theory. This resulted in many students not understanding the relevance of certain labs or experiments. This they believed impacted their learning outcomes and grades as they were unable to properly report on their findings from the labs without an adequate knowledge base.
Despite concerns regarding grading and teaching ability, many students report they were satisfied with labs at UCD. When asked to grade their satisfaction levels on a scale of one to ten, (one being least satisfied and ten being most satisfied), 35% reported being mostly satisfied (sever points out of ten) while a further 19% reported eight points out of ten in satisfaction. Only 4.7% of students in total reported in the three lowest satisfaction categories. This seems to indicate that even if students have specific issues with how labs are graded, taught or run, that on the whole, they seem to be satisfied with labs.
While 89% of students reported that they attended every one of their labs in the course of a semester, many reported feeling stressed by the pressure labs, and particularly lab reports put on them. They said that the expectation that they should finish a lab report by the end of a lab resulted in them not learning as much as they could from the labs itself. Others cited timetabling issues as a major contributor to stress, saying that labs were being scheduled for evening blocks after they had already sat through entire days of lectures.
The responses seem to indicate while many students are broadly happy with labs, the inconsistency in grading and feeling of distance from demonstrators is placing undue stress on students. Additionally, the inability to be sure what they should be learning, or how that would be graded, appears to be a great source of frustration for students.
By Aaron Bowman – CoEditor