Evaluation of NUMBAS software for creating undergraduate chemistry online lab resources

There is a growing body of evidence supporting the benefits of electronic resources for pre and post lab teaching in the sciences. For example, pre-lab tasks have been shown to reduce cognitive load, introduce lab techniques, highlight safety considerations and increase students’ confidence1,2. Electronic post-lab reports can save time marking and provide immediate feedback as well as offering students step-wise hints to help them work out questions they have difficulty with, and can also generate a large supply of practice questions until the student is happy with the topic. These smart worksheets can be combined with video footage to create a completely virtual lab experience. The need for such resources has been particularly prevalent since face to face lab teaching has not been possible during the global Covid pandemic.

There are a variety of routes to creating smart worksheets for electronic lab reporting both in-house and from commercial companies. In this talk we evaluate the use of the free software NUMBAS3 to create a virtual lab for our 1st year chemistry undergraduates. The talk will describe the process of creating a resource by people with no specialist computational background and no programming experience. The resource created was tested by staff and students who compared it to another version of the e-lab created by a commercial company, as well as to traditional paper based lab reports used in previous years. We will report on their critical evaluation from the perspectives of user experience of students and on staff’s assessment of its potential use in teaching undergraduate chemistry.

The project was led by a final year undergraduate student and we will describe the advantages of involving students in co-creation of the curriculum from the viewpoints of both staff and students.

As well as describing our experiences of creating the resource and the results of our preliminary study, we will discuss how NUMBAS could be used in other aspects of teaching as well as in the lab.

  1. Jolley, D.F., Wilson, S.R., Kelso, C., O’Brien, G. and Mason, C. (2016) Analytical Thinking, Analytical Action: Using Prelab Video Demonstrations and e-Quizzes To Improve Undergraduate Preparedness for Analytical Chemistry Practical Classes, J. Chem. Educ. 93, 11, 1855–1862

  2. Agustian, H.Y. and Seery, M.K. (2017) Reasserting the role of pre-laboratory activities in chemistry education: a proposed framework for their design Chem. Educ. Res. Pract., 2017,18, 518-532

  3. https://www.numbas.org.uk/