Lab Teaching Guidelines
The Lab Timetabling Group has been asked to consider planning and timetabling of specialist laboratories and computing clusters subject to the Covid related constraints of the 2021-22 academic session, along with implications for timetabling in the longer term.
The information on this page is something we feel all UofG staff should be aware of, however in particular, we ask that if you are an Academic, Timetabler, Administrator or Programme Lead, that you please take the time to read through the information, and review our requests for support. Thank you!
*NEW* Watch the recording of the Extra-ordinary Learning and Teaching Committee to discuss lab-teaching for 2021-22
This was recorded on Monday 21st June 2021.
Purpose of specialist laboratories
The purpose of specialist laboratories to students is threefold, ranked in importance:
- they facilitate explicit programme and course Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs) (“make acid and base buffer solutions”), often ILOs mandated by professional bodies (e.g. the Royal Society of Chemistry) or future employers;
- they facilitate ILOs which may be implicit, but are nonetheless assumed for any employable practitioner in the field (“correctly use electronic metering equipment”);
- they give confidence to students regarding their own progress in learning and their decision to attend a Russell Group University.
Therefore, wherever it is possible to timetable laboratories that meet any of these criteria, we should do so, with especial emphasis on fulfilling explicit ILOs.
Important Deadline: 30th July
CMIS will be re-opened at the beginning of July to allow timetabling of specialist laboratory sessions.
Schools and CTT must complete CMIS/MyCampus updates by 30th July 2021, before release to students.
It is recommended that academic decisions on specialist laboratories should be made well before the beginning of July.
Key Lab Planning Assumption 2021-22
The Group deems that specialist laboratories and computing clusters at 1m distancing (approximately 50% student density) may be able to fulfil these criteria, and current detailed planning should make this assumption. An assumption of 2m distancing is unlikely to meet these criteria, and if required by Government should be subject to emergency planning to fulfil the required programme ILOs for graduating (undergraduate and PGT) students only.
In the event of the Government removing all distancing restrictions, it is not required or expected that Schools should change their detailed planning and timetabling at 1m for the upcoming session; this is liable to cause upheaval and degrade the student experience.
Lab design examples from 2020-21
A growing bank of case studies has been collated to provide ideas, share best practice, and broaden the reach of lessons learned from our first year of offering labs under social distancing restrictions. Where relevant, staff have discussed how their plans might be adapted with a change from 2m distancing to 1m distancing.
Academics, Timetablers, Administrators, Programme Leads: What You Can Do to Help
After extensive consideration of a range of options and their constraints, the Group judges that in the 2021-22 academic year, it is most critical to prune the length and number of physical laboratory sessions offered. We should also make timetabling arrangements more flexible, and better share information on specialist lab resources.
Academics are asked to prune planned lab sessions. A number of approaches are suggested:
- reduce 3 hour laboratories to 2 hours to allow more sessions to be timetabled without extending the academic day. Focus on key ILOs and supporting learning with prior preliminary notes, or pre-recorded walk-through material available online. In the coming year, avoid requiring preliminary material to take place immediately before a physical laboratory session – allow such pre-recorded material to be available some days beforehand to give flexibility in physical lab delivery. Consider also the additional scheduling of computing clusters for any prior simulation sessions.
- remove lab sessions with unnecessarily duplication, or which are not core to the key ILOs of a course
- consider removing specialist laboratories for pre-Honours years where students will be able to fulfil ILOs in later years (for instance significantly limiting specialist labs for level 2 students, to ensure lab capacity for level 3 and 4 students
Programme leads should prune lab materials not only for their own needs, but to allow a buffer for variation in predicted UG and PGT intake in their own School, and possible needs of cognate Schools.
Since 1m distancing will reduce lab density by approximately 50%, pruning now by a factor of 2 or more will give the best chance of a workable lab timetable, and avoid the significant future workload in emergency pruning if lab needs exceed the space available.
Timetablers may allow a small number of lecture slots on any single course to clash with laboratory slots, in order to allow laboratories to be timetabled more efficiently throughout a day (where lectures are recorded and transcripts available).
The Group is currently assessing techniques to permit minor clashes in timetabling against online-live and online-anytime lecture slots, and will provide more detail once that assessment is complete.
In carrying out more repetitions of shorter lab sessions throughout the day, the time available for technical services staff to prepare materials should not be reduced, nor their working day increased. The following should also be considered:
- pre- and post-cleaning of laboratory equipment may be integrated into each laboratory as part of student familiarisation with lab kit, to help reduce the time associated with additional cleaning —although of course this, and any Covid-applicable lab safety training, may impact on the time available to achieve lab ILOs;
- there may be additional laboratory preparation and movement of equipment needed, and a stress risk assessment should be established for technical staff involved, with mitigation explicitly noted which may include: the purchase of additional equipment, repurposing nearby rooms for local storage or ‘spreading out’ labs, and additional technician support.
- early discussion with technical staff is crucial to all these decisions.
Longer term opportunities
The Lab Timetabling Group is also considering the longer term implications of changes in our specialist laboratory provision, which will be communicated and consulted upon in the longer term.
Our considerations include: blending of online and physical labs to enhance the student experience; any possible implications of extending the working day; the need for sufficient technical and teaching staff to support different modes of laboratory provision; more accurate predictions of intake numbers to specialist labs; the logistics of movement and storage of specialist lab equipment; recommendations for future integrated lab space provision.