Survey Analysis Article

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Extracurricular Lab Sessions for Undergraduate Science Students

Parisa Agahi, Ashkan Samienezhad
October 21, 2016
McMaster University

The Student Medical Association and Research Team (SMART) was founded on December 2015 at McMaster University, and is registered as a McMaster Students Union (MSU) club supported by the Faculty of Science. The primary purpose of the SMART is to provide all McMaster undergraduate Science students the opportunity to improve their laboratory skills and knowledge through extracurricular lab sessions in the absence of any marking criteria. In addition, we aim to provide various tours to research labs at McMaster University to familiarize students with current research as well as the work of students in graduate studies. The partnership of the SMART with the McMaster Science Society (MSS) has provided the opportunity to host many Social Nights for students to gain better connection and meet different professors from various departments.

The Faculty of Science provides extensive number of lab intensive courses that fulfill essential knowledge and skills for students who are interested to pursue a career that requires hands-on scientific laboratory knowledge and experience. However, although the majority of students require exposure to lab intensive courses based on their career requirements, many are not enrolling in these lab intensive courses.
We have hypothesized that factors such as stress associated with class marking schemes (i.e. performance, lab reports, pre labs), the time associated for completing assignments, and the inability for enrolment due to additional program requirements or lack of pre-requisites, all may play significant roles in dissuade students to participate in lab intensive courses despite their interests. Therefore, the SMART has been interested to explore the level of interest of undergraduate students studying Science to participate in extracurricular lab sessions in the absence of any marking criteria.
The goal is to provide lab sessions that create enjoyable learning environments, that can increase the confidence of students, and promote independent learning and team work skills.
The results of a survey conducted in August 2016 with 162 participants from McMaster University?s Faculty of Science, Health Sciences, and Nursing, showed major interest from students to gain scientific knowledge and laboratory experience. Most importantly, students are highly interested to participate in extracurricular lab sessions in the absence of any marking criteria.

Faculties Involved
McMaster University?s Faculty of Science includes the following schools and departments:
? Department of Biochemistry and Biomedical Sciences
? Department of Biology
? Department of Chemistry & Chemical Biology
? School of Geography & Earth Sciences
? School of Interdisciplinary Science
? Department of Kinesiology
? Department of Mathematics & Statistics
? Department of Physics & Astronomy
? Department of Psychology, Neuroscience & Behavior
In addition, responses were received from Faculty of Health Sciences, as well as Nursing.
(McMaster University, Faculty of Science)

A survey was conducted in August 2016 consisting of quantitative and qualitative questions on a social media website (Facebook), which received a total of 162 responses in the period of August 3 to August 21; with all participating McMaster University students. The target participants were undergraduate students (incoming first years and recently graduated students included) in the Faculty of Science.
Responses include 98 first year students, 30 second year, 22 third year, 8 fourth year, and 4 recently graduate students. There were two questions about the level and program of the student, six multiple choice questions, and two short answer questions. The questions of this short survey were mainly designed to capture the understanding and expectations of students in their level of study about
lab intensive courses and potential impact on one?s learning. The participants were encouraged to provide their email address to enter a draw for one of three Campus Store gift cards, since the original submissions received absolutely anonymously.
# Question
1. Are you a McMaster University student?
2. Which year are you in?
3. Which program are you in?
4. Please provide your McMaster email address for a chance to win a Campus Store gift card (Optional).
Quantitative and Qualitative
5. On a scale from 1 to 5, how likely are you willing to take lab courses in your upcoming year? (Aside from the requirements that you absolutely have to take)
6. If answered 1-2:
What are the reasons that keep you from taking lab intensive courses?
7. If answered 4-5:
What are the reasons that encourage you to enroll in lab intensive courses?
8. Please rate how well lab components enhance your learning experience and complement the lecture material.
9. How satisfied are you with the skills that you have learned in your previous lab courses? (Considering what is expected of a student at your level)
10. How well do you think you understand the importance of every step of the lab protocols that you have performed?
11. How beneficial would additional lab skills practice be to your future education?
12. Would you be interested to participate in monthly lab sessions outside of the classroom to enhance your lab skills?
13. If answered yes to the above question, what specific lab are you interested in learning extracurricularly?

Table 1. Proposed questions in the survey with the aim to capture opinions from students about lab intensive courses as well as extracurricular lab participation. The introductory questions were aimed to receive information about the level and program of study of each student with their provided response.

The last question of the survey about the students? interest in particular lab sessions showed significant results for Biology and Chemistry labs. In addition, great amount of responses mentioned Biomedical, Biochemistry, Anatomy, Microbiology, Physics, and Psychology labs.

Figure 1. Word Cloud of particularly interesting lab sessions, with larger scale words indicating a greater number of mentions by students.

A significant number of responses from the survey questions (specifically #11-12, Table 1) supported our initial hypothesis. The majority of participants responded with a high level of interest towards participation in the extracurricular lab sessions, and provided feedback about the kind of labs that they were interested to participate in (Figure 1). With 58.2% of responses from a population of 162, approximately 97 people from this population are very interested to participate in these lab sessions, and 126 students (75.9%) responded that additional lab practice would be desirable and would absolutely help (#11-12, Table 1). Considering that each assigned lab room is limited to approximately 30 students, greater number of students responded to be very interested to participate in monthly extracurricular lab sessions (#12, Table 1)
The second purpose of this survey was to observe the change in students? perspectives on enrolling in lab intensive courses; with the hypothesis that as students reach upper years of their undergraduate program, they tend to prioritize maintaining a high GPA, and with the perspective of lab intensive courses as time consuming and stressful, they would rather invent their time in less content-heavy courses. With this analysis in mind, question #5-10 from Table 1 were also designed to address this question. However, because disproportionate number of responses from each level of study was received, this type of comparison between students of each level of study is not possible.
The extracurricular lab sessions are mainly designed at a first to second year level, for students with some background in science and the scientific experiment. The students in Faculty of Science are specifically the aim for these sessions for the sake of simplicity as well as exposure to some scientific knowledge. We believe additional surveys that can provide insight about the interest of students in other faculties can be helpful. In addition, being able to provide greater resources to accommodate for additional lab sessions can provide the opportunity to participate in extracurricular lab sessions to a larger number of students within the McMaster community.

Based on the significant population of students who have shown interest to gain extra lab practice and participate in extracurricular lab sessions, we conclude that the presence of lab sessions outside of the classroom would be greatly appreciated by undergraduate students in Faculty of Science. An extracurricular lab session with no marking criteria with the sole purpose of providing additional laboratory practice, can provide a highly beneficial learning environment in the absence of stress-evoking tasks, while creating an enjoyable learning environment.
The Student Medical Association and Research Team hopes to gain support from faculty members as well as students in order to implement extracurricular lab sessions beginning from September 2017, with open enrollment to all McMaster University undergraduate students in the Faculty of Science.

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