Ensuring essential prior knowledge for lab work


Dr Nigel Lowe in the Department of Chemistry delivers materials via the VLE not only for first year undergraduates, who have varying degrees of experience of lab work when they arrive at university, but also for undergraduates throughout their degree via a ‘Practical work in Chemistry’ VLE site. Students can access a range of instructional videos and a compulsory ‘pre-lab’ quiz must be completed (and passed) on the VLE before any practical work can take place.

Keywords: video, images, quiz, adaptive release, lecture capture

Aims and Objectives

“We attach great importance to the laboratory skills that you develop during your time at York…”

Practical work in the laboratory is an essential component of student learning throughout an Undergraduate Chemistry degree at York. Before they attend any lab session, students will need to undertake some prior training and assessment in order to ensure that they are both familiar with the equipment and techniques they will be using and that they fully understand any relevant safety issues. Not only will this help to ensure the highest standards of Health and Safety in this potentially hazardous area, but also helps to prepare students for each session through online material, often linked to paper based activities or exercises.

Screenshot of VLE site with pre-lab quiz

Example screenshot from the VLE site


As incoming students will come from a variety of backgrounds with a range of previous lab experience, 1st year students are provided with induction materials to help get everyone up to speed and support their initial orientation. These include;

  • Online introductory health and safety lectures, originally delivered live and captured by the Replay lecture capture service for students to review and recap.
  • A guided tour of essential equipment they will use in lab sessions and where it can be located.
  • Downloadable lab skills sheets.

Using this material, students are also required to achieve a passing mark (80%) on a compulsory Health and Safety quiz before they are permitted to attend any lab session. Some of this material is made available to students prior to arrival at York to support their transition to Higher Education.

In addition to this, all 1st, 2nd and 3rd year students are enrolled on dedicated “Practical work in Chemistry” VLE sites. Students are required to engage with a range of essential resources prior to labs session, including:

  • Instructional videos or images introducing any new equipment or techniques that will be used in the lab activities.
  • A summary of potential hazards associated with the experiment.
  • An interactive health and safety statement that students are expected to read and acknowledge, confirming that they have consumed the provided safety information.
    • Acknowledgement of this statement would automatically reveal a dedicated pre-lab quiz.
  • A compulsory pre-lab quiz which must be successfully completed by 8.30 on the morning of the lab session.
    • Performance on the quiz is tracked through the VLE and students cannot attend lab sessions unless they have achieved a passing mark.
    • First Year Students: Quizzes probe student understanding of the rationale of experimental design behind the procedures described in their laboratory course handbook.
    • Second Year Students: In Year 2, students are encouraged to develop the good practice of keeping their own lab-books by being required to carry out certain calculations and record elements of key H&S information in their lab-books. The related compulsory VLE quiz ensures that their calculations are correct and their H&S notes are checked in the laboratory by postgraduate demonstrators before their actual labwork can begin.


Video and photographs were filmed on location in labs at York and were mostly filmed as part of UG summer project work and edited and post produced by academic staff responsible for practical work. Subtitles/captions were added to meet accessibility requirements and ensure students could access content on campus without the need for headphones/speakers. VLE sites include dedicated folders for each lab session, containing the appropriate material which students access prior to the session. “Adaptive release” is used to control the release of content so that compulsory quizzes can only be accessed once students have agreed to the health and safety statement.

Financial support for project has come externally from an UoY ELDT grant acting to pump-prime a larger HE STEM award via the Royal Society of Chemistry, and initial purchase of video and computer equipment was made possible by the University Rapid Response Fund.


Combining paper based and online resources with VLE delivery which can track student engagement and performance can help to ensure that students are safe, prepare effectively and get the most out of the valuable (and expensive) lab time.

Next Steps

Case study last updated: February 2014

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