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Improving undergraduate students' laboratory report writing skills

Christopher Dunne
School of Biological Sciences and Biotechnology, Murdoch University
Science students in first year undergraduate units show a marked variation in their laboratory report writing skills. This variation can in part be contributed to the variation between the students' academic abilities and awareness of what is required in a 'journal style' laboratory report. This project aimed to improve the quality of undergraduate students' report writing through the use of post-laboratory tutorials, one on one drafting and effective feedback. The ability of the students to achieve the set standards for three reports was monitored using the marks awarded and the comments provided using feedback sheets.

A survey was conducted prior to the project and at the completion of the project in order to gauge student opinions of report writing. Prior to enrolling in the unit, students had only limited experience with simple short reports and were unsure of what was expected. Typical students spent less than 5 hours on their reports, used 1-3 references and rarely drafted their work. At the completion of the project there was a distinct change in the opinions of the students: typical students were now spending 5-10 hours on their reports and 85% of students were drafting their reports. Although the use of references was up, the use of journal articles was still uncommon. Most students reported that the project helped to improve their report writing skills and 95% of students were satisfied with the level of feedback provided.

When comparing the marks awarded for the three reports, many students showed a clear improvement in the quality of their writing skills between the first and second report. Anecdotally it appeared that students had improved their ability to conform to the format issues required in their reports. Additionally, during the project I observed that students were advancing in their understanding of the implicit and explicit structure required within laboratory reports. A number of issues pertaining to the project were identified during reflection and will be discussed.

Please cite as: Dunne, C. (2003). Improving undergraduate students' laboratory report writing skills. In Partners in Learning. Proceedings of the 12th Annual Teaching Learning Forum, 11-12 February 2003. Perth: Edith Cowan University. http://lsn.curtin.edu.au/tlf/tlf2003/abstracts/dunne-abs.html

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Last revision: 17 Jan 2003. This URL: http://lsn.curtin.edu.au/tlf/tlf2003/abstracts/dunne-abs.html