Pruning labs on the basis of practical realities



The historical timetable required 6 different labs to be offered over the course of 2 weeks. Capacity restrictions reduced this to only 1 lab setup.


Beyond supporting the most core ILOs, the choice of the best lab(s) to offer also involved factors such as practical realities regarding equipment. A combination of face to face, condensed lab tours and virtual experiments helped recreate some of the other experiences that were lost.

What was done?

Example 1: Selecting one of many labs

Historically, we have repeated all of our labs twice to reach all students. Most of our labs have historically run for 2-3 hours.

Distancing measures meant we now had to increase to 6 repeats to fit in all students. Also not possible to complete within the usual 2-3 hour timeslot. 

Cherry-picked labs this year where the content was such that:

  • they were possible without microscopes (not allowed under restrictions)
  • small sections of content were able to be cut
  • having smaller groups actually allowed us to manage students time more readily to ensure that, for example, a 3-hour lab could actually be completed within 2 hours

In some cases, we front-loaded the lab with a pre-lab video with info to watch or read so that students arrived prepared for labs. 

For this coming year, we have planned for both 2m and 1m social distancing.

At 1m social distancing, we would only need to run 3 lab repeats rather than 6. We could then slot 2 labs into the same timescale. Crucially, technical staff are also prepared for this possibility.

Example 2: Scaling up small technical setups

In other areas, we re-designed the labs a little more.

In one module, we usually run 5 labs simultaneously where students work in small groups at each experiment and move around a lab station each day in a round-robin fashion to complete all 5 labs.

We chose one of these 5 stations and scaled it up on the basis that:

  • we could buy reasonably cheap and easily cleanable equipment for several small groups to be working on the experiment at the same time
  • it involved data collection and analysis all in the face-to-face lab
  • it was one of the shorter of the 5 lab stations

Example 3: Providing ready-made data while still familiarising students with equipment

We have also made alternative plans for one of the other labs on which students gather data and write a research paper.

This lab has equipment that is too expensive to scale up, is hard to clean between groups, and hard to fit in less than 3 hours.

Instead, we plan for students to undertake an online lab and then, in small groups of max. 12 students, attend the lab for a 1-hour slot where they will be walked through the equipment used in the experiment, be shown a live run-through of how to collect data, and have a short data calculations session.

This will allow the students to become familiar with the experimental set up in person and allow them to ask questions.


For Students

  • Being more distanced than usual, students seemed more focussed on tasks.
  • In condensed face to face lab tours students can familiarise with the use of equipment, gain clarity on experimental protocol and ask questions.

For Staff

  • There is not always a selection of labs to cherry pick from or areas to cut.
  • Equipment can be expensive if more is required to prevent students from sharing or to expand capacity of labs.
  • Technical staff need to be involved from the start to ensure smooth running of labs.


For Students

  • Socialisation was hampered due to the distancing measures. It is hugely important to build relationships with peers and promote positive mental health.

For Staff

  • Slightly harder to interact and assist students when trying to keep physical distance.

Evaluation and student feedback

  • Teaching staff reported that the students were extremely focused and carried out excellent dissections.
  • This is likely as students were physically distant from one another so stayed more focussed on their work and were not chatting in their usual pairs.
  • However, it could also be noted as a negative that students were not able to socialise as much as usual.