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Seeing is understanding: the use of online Pre-lab. exercises to enhance learning in Zoology practicals


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Jones, SM, Edwards, A and Brown, NR 2008 , 'Seeing is understanding: the use of online Pre-lab. exercises to enhance learning in Zoology practicals', paper presented at the UniServe Conference, 1/10/08-3/10/08, Sydney.

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Cognitive load theory suggests that a student’s learning will be inhibited if ‘the instructional materials
overwhelm a learner’s cognitive resources’ (Cook 2006, p.1076): the less prior knowledge a learner has, the more
susceptible they are to overload. Cognitive load theory provides the basis for a number of instructional design rules.
These include the use of multiple representations, and the use of dual mode presentations (e.g. verbal plus visual).
In our first year Zoology practical classes, we have observed that many students have difficulty visualising what they will
do in class from reading a set of written instructions. Thus they are less well prepared, and less able to take full
advantage of the learning experiences offered by the practical exercises. When that exercise involves a dissection, there
are ethical implications (ANZCCART 2005). We therefore prepared a series of prelaboratory exercises to support each of
our dissection-based practical classes. These are PowerPoint shows illustrating the procedure for each stage of the
dissection, with written comments and questions designed to highlight key learning concepts: they are loaded into our
online learning site the week before the relevant practical.
To gauge the impact of this initiative, we surveyed our students before releasing the first prelaboratory, and in the
penultimate week of semester. The surveys were designed to elicit information on how well-prepared they feel for their
classes, and what type of preparation they do: 68% commented that they ‘like to see or be shown what I have to do’. We
also sought feedback from the demonstrators about the types of questions being asked by the students to gauge the
effectiveness of the prelaboratories in helping the students conceptualise what they would be doing in class. Preliminary
analysis suggests that the prelaboratories were enthusiastically embraced by the students, and that there may be
enhanced learning outcomes.

Item Type: Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)
Authors/Creators:Jones, SM and Edwards, A and Brown, NR
Keywords: cognitive load, engagement
Additional Information:

Copyright © 2007 Susan M. Jones, Julian Dermoudy, Greg Hannan, Sally James, Jon Osborn, Brian Yates and Christine

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