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Life Science & Technology - Faculty of Science - Leiden University

Learning about measurement errors now also possible online

Making learning material come alive and convey it in the best possible way: that is the aim of education developer Wybrigje de Vries of the Science Teacher Support Desk. Together with university lecturer Edgar Blokhuis, she developed the online module ‘Error Assessment’ for first-year LST bachelor students. That subject is compulsory and important for the rest of the study. ‘As a student, this would make me much happier than a dry piece of text.’

An important part of the Life Science and Technology (LST) programme is conducting experiments yourself. That includes measurements. ‘And when you measure, you always have to deal with measurement errors and measurement uncertainties,’ De Vries explains. ‘Students have to learn how to deal with that.’

University lecturer Edgar Blokhuis teaches them. ‘Right from the first practical, I teach students to think about the precision with which they measure. How accurate are their measurement points and how does that affect the final results? We call this error assessment (see box). You need this knowledge from the first moment, but the underlying theory also comes in handy again later in your studies, for example during the research internship. Students expressed a need to be able to look up the theory behind error analysis later on.’

Error analysis
In quantitative error analysis, you consider the precision with which you measured. Is the strength of the current 4 A, 3.7 A, 3.71 A or 3.713 A? If the current strength is 4 A (1 significant figure), the actual value lies between 3.5 A and 4.5 A. Do your results change if you assume 4.5 A instead of 4 A? Or does that not matter at all? You explore things like that.

Saving time in a modern way

With this wish from the students, Blokhuis approached the Science Teacher Support Desk (SEEDS). It was up to De Vries to develop a module that students could consult throughout their studies. De Vries: ‘In the old set-up, students had to read a document, make practice questions and take a test all during their working lecture. Such a lecture required many assistants to answer all the questions. It was also difficult for students to work their way through all the material. I wanted to change that.’

‘No lectures are required. Students decide when to complete the module.’

De Vries had previously created several interactive modules for the Science Skills Platform. ‘I wanted to put Error Analysis in a similar format. The new module leads students through the material step-by-step using exercises. No more lectures are required and no time has to be scheduled. Students decide when to complete the module. The test is digital. You take it as many times as you need, as long as you have passed it before the end of the course.’

‘It turned out better than I could have imagined’

The module is available in Brightspace and consists of four chapters. De Vries: ‘I found it especially important that students do not have to process all the information at once. The module has become very appealing and clear, with a lot of alternation of images, theory and interactive exercises.’

According to Blokhuis, it worked out very well. ‘The module turned out better than I could have imagined. There are sections where students can practice a specific aspect, such as rounding, there are quizzes with hints to practice and you get feedback if you give a wrong answer. We support the explanations with four short videos. This way, there is net much more individual attention than there would be during a lecture.’ And that apparently worked well: ‘The students barely used the discussion platform where they could ask questions to the lecturer.’

Question from the Brightspace module

Students are satisfied: ‘clear and managable’

In the student evalutions, one word stood out: ‘clear!’ ‘The information was clear and well manageable,’ writes one of them. ‘And I liked that there was variety between videos, text and exercises.’ The students also saw it as a great advantage that they could schedule their own time. A point for improvement? ‘Even more sample questions!’

Customised educational assistance
Do you also want to revamp your education? Then contact the Science Teacher Support Desk at seeds@science.leidenuniv.nl for customised help.

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