Student attitudes towards pharmacology practicals

[Speaker] Lynette B Fernandes:1
[Co-author] Anna-Marie Babey:2
1:School of Biomedical Sciences, The University of Western Australia, Australia, 2:School of Science and Technology, University of New England, Australia

Background: Laboratory practicals are under scrutiny with concerns that they fall short of genuine enhancement of learning and the perceived cost- and resource-saving benefits associated with computer simulations. Further, students are more discerning and require that all teaching activities optimise their learning. Consequently it is essential to ascertain students' expectations of hands-on practicals and which features are perceived to facilitate learning to guide curriculum refresh.
Methods: Paper-based surveys of second and third year pharmacology students were used to obtain information about student expectations of what they would gain from these laboratory practicals, which facets enhanced and which detracted from their enjoyment of these activities, and which key elements augmented their learning. Approval for this project was obtained from the University of Western Australia Human Ethics Committee (RA/4/1/9046).
Results: One hundred and fourteen second-year students and 100 third-year students completed the survey. Approximately two-thirds of the second-year students were 19 years of age, with women slightly outnumbering men (57% vs 42%, respectively). By contrast, about two-thirds of the 3rd year students were 20 years of age, with the gender profile reversed (56% men; 44% women). Both cohorts overwhelmingly agreed that staff preparedness and interest (96% agreement) as well as well-organised practicals (94% agreement) were essential to their learning. Third-year students (82%) were much more likely than second-year students (61%) to value practicals as a means of revising and reinforcing core content. Neither group expressed any substantial concern regarding any equipment problems, that protocols were recipe-based or that there was little opportunity to design their own practicals, although in each instance, the third-year students were slightly more concerned (2nd year: 25% agreement that the issue detracted from enjoyment, 16% and 10% respectively; 3rd year: 37% agreement, 14% and 15%, respectively).
Conclusion: There was near-unanimous agreement from students that engaged and engaging staff conducting well-organised practical activities enhanced their learning. Students were largely tolerant of problems that might arise during these practicals and activities that might seem repetitive, particularly when core concepts from lecture material were reinforced. Design and implementation of learning opportunities should take into account students expectations and learning needs.
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